Monday, 28 November 2011
'Take Shelter' review:
Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you. That's the abiding feeling of 'Take Shelter' in which Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) begins to lose his sanity following a series of apocalyptic dreams, as everything in his small Ohio town, from faithful dog to colleagues at the construction site, become portents of doom. Most concerned about his sudden change in temperament and drop in health (mental and physical) is loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain), whose two dearly held aspirations - a move to the seaside and surgery for their daughter (Tova Stewart) which will restore her hearing - are put in jeopardy by Curtis' decision to throw all their finances into extending an old storm shelter underneath the backyard.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, it's commendable as an exploration of mental illness - with each fresh concern seeming very real to Curtis even as those around him raise eyebrows. As with 'Melancholia', the unsympathetic reaction of others to his mental state is key. But it's his own maniaphobia, the fear of going insane, that is best represented as he heads toward a total breakdown even in spite of his wish not to. He sees a doctor and a councillor, but wants to be given concrete answers and cured - not merely listened to (a position anyone who's been to the doctors with a mental health problem will understand). The fact that his mother was committed when he was a child adds to the sense of dread as he contemplates a future in which he too is separated from his family.
Shannon's portrayal of this fall is the film's strongest suit, with the actor long a specialist in playing unhinged characters ('Revolutionary Road', 'My Son, My Don, What Have Ye Done?') without gimmicks. There is something in his eyes which suggests a man who's both dangerous and pitiable, and there is also a warmth there evident as he interacts with his daughter. Chastain, who has seemed to be in everything over the last six months, is also outstanding, giving her most compelling and complete performance to date. Also worth a mention are the special effects which are totally effective for such a low budget drama, as CGI tornadoes and swarms of black birds blend seamlessly with their environment.
The final twist is, however, misjudged - providing a cheap, head scratching finale over which the audience can pontificate "did that just happen or was that a dream?" or "is she insane now too?" which somewhat undermines the mental health angle of the preceding two hours. It also lacks dramatic power, coming out of nowhere. Pacing is also an issue as the running time drags, whilst the frequent dream sequences are so clearly signposted that they are never themselves frightening (even if they give us a window onto why Curtis is frightened). It's difficult to shake the feeling that, as the stakes are raised and Curtis is plunged deeper into insanity, the film should become quicker and more intense.
'Take Shelter' is out now in the UK and has been rated '15' by the BBFC.