Take Shelter tells the story of Curtis, a construction worker in Ohio with a beautiful wife and daughter who begins to suffer nightmares, revolving around terrible storms. Birds fall from the skies, pets and friends turn aggressive and the only refuge is the storm shelter in the garden. Curtis becomes obsessed, reinforcing the shelter by day and dreaming horrors by night while his family and work colleagues worry for his sanity. They have good reason. Curtis’ mother left her children when they were small, finally being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and since living in nursing accommodation. And so Curtis lives in the middle of two fears – is he mentally ill or is he some kind of prophet? A voice in the wilderness that no-one listens to? Neither is good.
There are several problems with Take Shelter, and it isn’t the acting – Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain do a fine job as husband and wife Curtis and Samantha. The main issue is that Take Shelter promises much but delivers little. Possibly because it doesn’t know what it is. The film could be the portrait of a man succumbing to schizophrenia bit by bit or it could be the countdown to a great disaster, with only one man knowing the truth. Either of these would have made for an interesting drama but instead, until the final minute, we have no idea which it is and, as such, it fails to engage. It also means that what it has to say about both is meaningless.
In fact, my frustration increased during the second half of the film to such an extent that I anticipated any little twist of the plot. Nothing was not predictable and the ending, when it finally came, was so contrived that its only saving grace was that it was the end.
Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain are excellent and the relationship of Curtis and Samantha with their deaf young child is moving, but all in all, Take Shelter is such a tedious and dull disappointment. Take Shelter leads nowhere, its air of menace is superficial and unoriginal and its outcome makes a nonsense of what came before. For a study of mental illness, watch Melancholia. If you want to see a film about the ominous threat of annihilation, watch Melancholia.