Film Review: Take Shelter


Title: Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain.

Release Date: November 25th

Take Shelter is about a blue collar worker who begins to have ominous nightmares about violent storms. These nightmares have dire effects on his psyche and his relationships with family and friends.

Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) plays Joe, a construction worker who along with his wife (Jessica Chastain, The Help) deals with the difficulties of raising a deaf daughter. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, Joe is soon plagued by nightmares in which he is caught in storms that rain oil and is attacked by faceless figures.

The dream sequences provide decent scares, with blurred figures appearing from nowhere to attack Joe and his daughter. It’s not until the attacks happen that we realise Joe is dreaming, and so every scene contains the lingering suspicion that lightning will strike. This keeps the audience on the edge of their seat, which is fortunate because apart from the brief dream scenes, this is a slow-moving, restrained film.

As the dreams intensify they take a greater toll on Joe’s personal life. When friends start to appear as his imaginary assailants, he is too frightened to face them in the real world and so begins to isolate himself. It is a clear possibility from the beginning that Joe may just be losing his mind, and this is as obvious to the audience as it is to the character himself. When details of his family history are revealed to us it becomes ever more probable.

The dramatic meat of the film is in Joe’s deteriorating relationship with his family. He is convinced that the storms of his dream are on the way in reality, and so he devotes excessive time and money into expanding and supplying his storm shelter. This is money they don’t have, and it causes serious tension within the family. The two lead actors turn in powerful performances as the arguing and confused spouses. Chastain finds a good balance between empathy and firmness as the wife desperately trying to understand her husband’s illness. However, it is Shannon who really shines as the tortured father equally afraid of both his apocalyptic dreams and allowing his family to witness his vulnerability.

The film feels just a little too long and moves rather slowly in parts. However, the constant threat of scenes being another of Joe’s horrific dreams and an unending doubt in the viewer as to whether his dreams are really prophecy, or just lunatic delusions, keeps things interesting.

In a Nutshell: Scary nightmare sequences and an incredible lead performance make this psychological drama a real accomplishment.