Curtis LaForche is a happily married family man in Ohio. With a solid construction job including generous benefits, he earns a decent living for his loving wife and daughter. That’s good because 6 year old Hannah is deaf and in need of an expensive medical procedure. Michael unexpectedly begins having dreams of an imminent storm. But are these actual visions of things to come or the sign of dementia setting in? You see his own mother was committed 30 years prior when she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia at the same age Curtis is now. This weighs on him as he contends with his unraveling sanity. These visions become more frequent and threatening as they start to involve his wife and daughter, his co-workers, even the family dog.
Take Shelter reasonably unfolds rather effectively despite the way things spiral mentally out of control. The hallucinations aren’t overly done. They’re darkly ominous and believable. These haunting flourishes are powerful given the rest of the film is so austere. As they pile on top of each other we suffer his impending sense of dread. It’s almost as if he reveals them to his wife, they will confirm he’s going crazy. So he doesn’t at first, relying on a counselor named Kendra to disclose them. But as soon as he starts to depend on her, she is transferred.
Michael Shannon’s helplessness is perfectly conveyed through his actions even when he doesn‘t verbalize them. He initiates changes in his life based on these premonitions. He embarks on constructing a storm shelter and his behavior has less than ideal consequences on his job and his marriage. The tension builds as a patriarch who slowly unravels in a once tranquil household. He’s mesmerizing. It’s a slow burn performance that grabs you with its intensity. In contrast, Jessica Chastain is warmth and compassion personified as his devoted wife who desperately tries to understand what is going on. Initially she is in the dark regarding the severity of his condition, but is gradually made aware. She conveys all the anxiety the audience is feeling.
Take Shelter can be taken as a brilliant psychological character study, an allegory about uncertainly in troubled times, or as simply advocating the support of loved ones in the face of mounting difficulties. It wholly relies on the performances of its two leads to convey these themes. They engender our sympathy and so the script works. It’s not a particularity well plotted movie. The story moves forward through dialogue more than actual events. But as an emotional journey it’s moving. See it for Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. They make the trip worthwhile.