Sometimes a film works so much better because it is an independent film with an independent budget. It would have been very easy to give this film a slightly bigger budget, changing the “end of the world” visions that the central character has and making them bigger, more epic and much more threatening. That would have actually been a detriment to the movie though.
Take Shelter’s biggest strength is how under-played and quiet it is. It isn’t about the end of the world or even the visions that Michael Shannon’s Curtis has. It is about how him and those around him, cope with the possibility that Curtis may actually be losing his mind. This isn’t about a huge, global event; it’s about Curtis.
That means that the most important aspect of the whole film is Curtis himself and how he reacts to the visions and dreams he is having. This is the biggest positive of the movie because Michael Shannon is fantastic. The only other film I’d actually seen Michael Shannon in was Bug, where he plays someone with an obvious mental illness. Shannon played a much more unhinged, frantic character in that but demonstrates he can also play possible mental illness quietly and focused, adding to the mystery of the film and whether his visions are real or not.
That’s one of the key themes of the movie and something that maybe could have been explored further. It always leaves the audience guessing to whether Shannon has got a mental illness or whether what he is seeing will actually come true. The visions are fantastic but without being over-the-top. The storm effects, the attack by his dog and a scene involving his wife, all unnerve and frighten without making this a horror movie. Its even more impressive when we don’t actually see some of the visions but have them described to us by Curtis instead. These are no less unnerving for having not witnessed them first-hand.
It’s not a complicated movie though and this is actually part of its downfall. Once we have seen the visions Curtis has seen and understood his fear and what he has witnessed, the film repeats itself as we watch him begin to unravel. The pace slows and interest starts to fall away. Luckily it kick-starts itself into high-gear with scenes set inside the Shelter. Although this idea and setting could have been explored further as well.
It’s a small issue and more of a drawback than an actual problem with a very good, indie movie. It’s not huge on effects or the end of the world but instead lets the characters portray the events and keeps them very small. This also keeps you guessing right until the end.
Overall, Take Shelter is a great example of how to do a mental illness, character piece and a good demonstration of Michael Shannon’s acting skills. He underplays the terror and makes each unnerving moment just slightly more terrifying. It’s a great film for keeping the audience guessing as we try to figure out whether Shannon is ill or actually witnessing the end of the world. Although a little over-long and slow in places, this film is still well worth a watch.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)