Take Shelter – Movie Review

“ Insanity is the true clairvoyance ”

For his second movie, director Jeff Nichols tries and succeeds in setting a disturbing but moving atmosphere that will surely make you feel a bit anxious. This psychological drama explores fatherhood, a theme that Nichols worked on his following movies ​ Mud ​ and Midnight Special ,  but also the anxiety that arises in rural America towards the uncertain future that the people are facing and the powerlessness that comes with it.

It starts with a nightmare. Curtis Laforche (Michael Shannon) looks up at the sky and stands still as he watches black clouds gathering, oozing with drops of oily liquid, the storm is on its way to get him. In this movie we follow Curtis, a middle-aged husband and father of a young hearing-impaired girl. As his fellow construction worker and friend Dewart (Shea Whigham) says to him in the beginning, he’s “got a good life”. But he keeps having these vivid dreams where a storm is coming and people close to him are assaulting him. Despite trying to hide it from his wife Sam (Jessica Chastain), it clearly affects his behavior and relationships. Between delusion or a true sense of premonition, his dread is slowly transpiring into his real life.

Throughout the movie and despite his seemingly irrational actions that he keeps on doing, we cannot blame Curtis for his choices that are fundamentally meant to keep his family safe. Upgrading the old storm shelter in his garden becomes his principal obsession and this shelter becomes almost a character on its own, driving him away from his relatives to what he thinks will save them. We see Curtis as a prophet, going against the flow of his community that he and we see in big danger. The apocalyptic danger is displayed by impressive yet sober visual effects, like the scene with the birds as well as the lightning strikes which feel truly chilling, and are supported by beautiful sound editing with deep thunder and strong whistling wind. These effects leave us in profound admiration of nature’s poetic chaos while maintaining constant distress and uncertainty over the true state of Curtis’s mind.

The ever-growing fear of the storm obviously echoes the environmental crisis that we are experiencing. Premiered 8 years ago in 2011, this movie draws a perfect picture of the 21st century westerner’s state of mind. Shot right after infamous 2008 financial crisis and long started economic decline, 8 years later and it feels about the same. To add to this picture, Nichols shows the awful state of health care in the USA : when Curtis cannot work anymore because of his terrors, his deaf daughter can no longer get her proper treatment.

Take Shelter gives us a dark yet lyrical display of a nuclear family against the world. With their amazing performances, Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain make this movie as real as it gets. The impending doom might as well be real.


A review made by Léni Gauffier

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