Monday, October 24, 2011

Take Shelter

Board the windows and get to the storm shelter, we're reviewing Take Shelter!

Take Shelter is a very uncomfortable and unsettling film, the kind that deals with the choice between sanity and faith. There's tension and storm clouds and uncomfortable pauses in the air. But is it a good kind of uncomfortable?

Michael Shannon from Boardwalk Empire fame plays Curtis, a blue-collar worker and family man, who tries to live a simple life even with his little girls oncoming deafness.  He starts having very vivid dreams of a coming storm which he brushes off at first, until they become waking hallucinations. Torn between wondering if this is some kind of warning or if he's slowly going crazy like his mother, he begins to build a tornado shelter while seeking medical help, all while his life crumbles around him.

As I stated before it's a very unnerving film for multiple reasons, but all of them good. I love what a great job it does of showing Curtis' struggle with his sanity.  He doesn't choose one route or the other, he's just preparing for the worse, whatever that may be. You really don't know the outcome until the very end(And I'm not spoiling it here or else you won't see it! I'll save that for a sketched discussion.)  What I like is that he never interprets this as a message from God and the movie never has to have that played out discussion of "religious fanatic who turns out to be right". It's just his sanity vs. his feeling.

This movie is the perfect example of what it's like to go through having a loved one slowly break down into insanity. And it shows both sides equally; it will show how Curtis feels trying to explain what he's going through and thinking everyone thinks he's bonkers, and then show what his wife and friends go through as they're forced to watch his downward spiral.

And it's here the camerawork shines, showing how hard it is form him explaining to other characters what he's going through. It's very slow and very close, in an uncomfortably personal kind of way.  One scene has him explaining what he's going through and it's just an extreme close up of him talking for what seems like an extremely long time.  In another scene with his brother, Curtis doesn't want to talk with him. Curtis just wants him to leave him alone, so we the audience see Curtis from far away, his back turned, hardly ever seeing his face.

Michael Shannon shines from the lead, and if you love Boardwalk Empire, you'll also recognize Shea Whigham(he plays the sheriff) who is Curtis' friend Dewart. I guess they're real life buddies? Shannon is amazing trying to pay the reserved manly man who's slowly coming untwined and finally loses it.  He acts the hell out of his part and you really can't tell if he's crazy or just so frustrated that no one will believe in him. Jessica Chastain as his wife was surprisingly delightful, not that I thought she'd be bad(she was great in The Debt afterall), it's just that most of the times the role of the significant other of the supposed crazy can't stand said crazy and eventually leaves. But all throughout, she sticks with him and does all she can to keep her family together. Through this, her, her marriage, and her love for her husband are all the more believable.

Another thing this movie does well is it doesn't treat it's audience as dumb.  It doesn't have to use overly expositional dialogue to tell you that this Curtis' brother or that their daughter is deaf, they let the scene speak play out and let you discover it for yourself. It feels right and I wish more movies had the guts to do it.

The visuals for the dreams/visions/hallucinations themselves are stunning.  They aren't over the top, like the rest of the movie they're very slow, subtle and off-putting to creep you out. Birds will fly in strange patterns in the distance, thunder will boom suddenly out of nowhere, thick goopy yellow rain will pour, and tornadoes will slowly form just over the horizon. The soundtrack is very good, matching the movies creepiness and dramatics.

With films like this, they're really made or broken by their ending. All through the film you're wondering if a storm will come or if he's really crazy and just what is going on, and I'm not going to spoil what happens, but I will say it leaves a bit to be desired.  It's a bit disappointing and in my opinion doesn't live up to what they've been building up to. It's a great journey building up to it, but I just feel they could have done so much more with it, and I feel like this is the reason it didn't get that much coverage.  I'm hopeful that there will be some DVD extras explaining the ending or possibly some alternate endings.

THE GOOD: Great acting, great build up, great camera work, will leave you guessing until the end.
THE BAD: The ending will leave you wanting more.
OVERALL: I would say it's worth a watch even with its ending. The visuals and tone are perfect for creepy halloween feel, and the acting and really the entire rest of the movie is superb.
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Curtis has another bad dream, but instead of showing us what he sees, we get what his wife sees, which is Curtis having a fit looking like he's going into a seizure. It's a scary scene for anyone who's ever seen anyone go through that. When he finally wake,s he tries to brush it off like it's nothing, but he finally has to tell his teary-eyed wife what's going on. We still don't see the dream, all we get is Curtis, in what is arguably the best 'tell don't show' reversal, awkwardly explaining what happened in his dream. What we imagine from his words is more haunting than any cgi movie magic.

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