Curtis LaForche lives in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha and six-year-old daughter Hannah, who is deaf. Curtis makes a modest living as a crew chief for a sand-mining company. Samantha is a stay-at-home mother and part-time seamstress who supplements their income by selling handmade wares at the flea market each weekend. Money is tight, and navigating Hannah's healthcare and special needs education is a constant struggle. Despite that, Curtis and Samantha are very much in love and their family is a happy one.
Then Curtis begins having terrifying dreams about an encroaching, apocalyptic storm. He chooses to keep the disturbance to himself, channeling his anxiety into the obsessive building of a storm shelter in their backyard. His seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns and confounds Samantha, and provokes intolerance among co-workers, friends and neighbors. But the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn't compare to Curtis' private fear of what his dreams may truly signify.
Faced with the proposition that his disturbing visions signal disaster of one kind or another, Curtis confides in Samantha, testing the power of their bond against the highest possible stakes.
The LaForche family lives a simple small-town existence in Ohio. Curtis (Michael Shannon) works for a construction company, his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) a stay-at-home mother to their deaf daughter who also makes hand-sewn items she sells on the weekends at a fair. Every morning the family has breakfast together, and the love in the air is contagious. The LaForche family is the ideal family, but all of this is about to change with the first of many dreams.
The establishment of the immense love, and genuine care, the LaForche family shares for one another is imperative to where the story will take them. The pairing of Michael Shannon as Curtis and Jessica Chastain as Samantha was an excellent decision in casting. When she snuggles up to him in the doorway of their daughter's room one night, exchanging words with Curtis, and basking in the happiness of their family you believe it--so much that it hurts even more when things begin to disintegrate. This disintegration occurs in the form of a dream Curtis has; a nightmare to be exact. These dreams will continue, causing him to believe a storm is coming and that he must protect his family. But is there really a storm coming? Is it necessary to build a storm shelter they could live in for weeks? Or is it all in Curtis' head; paranoid delusions of a man who comes from a family where mental illness exists?
The mystery that surrounds Curtis' dreams, and his reasoning for the actions he takes, weigh heavy on the viewer, as well as on his family. Curtis devotes his life to preparing his family for what he believes is coming, and the realization that it may be him preparing them for his mental illness causes dramatic highs and lows throughout the film. Michael Shannon is remarkable as Curtis, taking each development of his character beyond expectations. His impassioned performance commands the film, declaring his presence and the immense power of Curtis' emotions. Take Shelter is a drastically different movie. It is part familial drama, part thriller, then dwindled with post-apocalyptic horror. The final scene culminates every emotion, every turmoil the family has faced, into a finale that leads you into a new unknown, paired with all of the terror and questioning Curtis initiated with his first dream. Take Shelter is unique, and a film this unique should not be missed.
There is great beauty in the wide shot, Take Shelter exemplifies this to the fullest. The setting of the film is a small Ohio town. The LaForche home is of moderate size, surrounded by a field out back where the storm shelter exists. The large expanse shown in the gorgeous wide-shots of the films has nothing to do with the land but with the sky. The ever expansive skyline, full of clouds and birds and the natural occurrences of weather. Utilizing a strong depth of field, that makes 3D look pitiful with the extraordinary dimensions Cinematographer Adam Stone creates, the shots of the sky are breathtaking. The grand-scale storm clouds hovering in the distance that appear ever so close and foreboding, the flocks of birds moving in unison to create an image of one large bird taking over the entire space, or the wide close-up of a tree blowing in the wind, its bright green leaves popping out of the frame in glorious fashion, each branch and leaf defined beyond human-eye capable detail. Take Shelter maintains the magnificent cinematography from the first shot to the last, even when it is the bright blue sky without a hint of distress in the midst it is a beautiful sight to watch on screen.
The wide-shots are not the only achievement in Take Shelter. The close-ups of the yellow rain falling on fingertips are just as defined and lit in a fashion to bring out the color. The characters faces are lit in shadows of light that place them in their current state of distress, as well as happiness. Curtis' descent into paranoia is aided by the framing of his face, the way the light touches it and masks it in the pain and suffering his character feels. Every detail of the lens, small or large, only heightens the filmic experience that is Take Shelter, making it one of the most beautifully shot films amassing such great expanses of nature, character emotion, the storm and the light.
Curtis LaForche is haunted by nightmares, and they are frightening to experience along with him. He dreams of a storm, one that causes harm to his own body, to his child, his wife, and those close to him are all involved. The nightmares continue, growing worse, and they do not end when Curtis wakes up. The question of whether they are foretelling events to come, or paranoid delusions of a mentally ill man is forever hanging in the air of Take Shelter. It is the anxiety Curtis feels, the paranoia that he is growing weaker, unable to care for his family, and slowing losing control of his mind that is most frightening. The dreams may be scary, and cause a jump now and again, but the mental turmoil of Curtis, led by the phenomenal performance of Michael Shannon, makes Take Shelter thrilling, and surprisingly scary to watch. You are not afraid of what goes bump in the night but in the ways in which a person's mind can trick them, overtake them, and leave them in a state of panic, not knowing what is real and what is not. Curtis is threatened by his own mentality, and the loss of a man's life paired with horrific visions of a future that may or may not come true is a truly haunting experience in Take Shelter.
September 30, 2011