LIFF25: Take Shelter - Cinema Review

'Hollywood loves telling stories about dreamers who chase their dreams... this is the story of the man who dreams nightmares and then acts upon them'

Jeff Nichols' writing and directing debut, Shotgun Stories, was an atmospheric but ultimately flawed tale about small town conflict - both external and internal - which marked him out as one of those people you needed to 'watch out for'. Quite often, film-makers tagged with this label disappear without a trace, move on to major studio offerings or, frankly, just go on to have a pretty decent, quiet, career. Jeff Nichols, on the other hand, has gone on to make Take Shelter, which is one of the best films you'll see this year.

Returning to the small town setup, Take Shelter is the story of Curtis (Michael Shannon), a man plagued by apocalyptic visions, unable to decide whether to act on them or have himself committed. Hollywood loves telling stories about dreamers who chase their dreams; the singer who wants to make it big and goes out there to do it, the meta-narrative of the 'star' who goes to Hollywood, the dreamer who dreams worlds and then finds themselves in them. This is the story of the man who dreams nightmares and then acts upon them.

Technically, Take Shelter is un-improvable. The camerawork, effects, cinematography (by Adam Stone) and acting are all exemplary. Stone's camera remains still for long periods or swoops painstakingly slowly across multi-faceted thunder-storms in low arcs, whilst the plains below reflect the golden light of a non-existent sun. Shannon and co-star Jessica Chastain are incredible and, perhaps more importantly, get to play well-rounded characters. In more mass-produced fare Curtis would battle on, making the problems worse, without taking the course most everyday people would follow. In Take Shelter, he's in a doctor's office before the first act is over.

This should be in the reckoning come Oscar time but partially because of Nichols' nightmare scenes - shot like, and perpetrating to be, miniature horror films - and The Academy's famous aversion to the Horror genre, it might well find itself ignored. These scenes though are crucial to the overall piece. They batter the viewer's expectations into submission, keeping you, if not on edge, then in an Inception-like state of uncertainty; are we in a dream, is anyone else seeing this, is Curtis mad, is something coming? The eventual triumph of Nichols' piece is the finale which answers nothing and everything and does so with David Wingo's lovely score toying disturbingly with our own inner certainties.

Look further...

'both realistically tells a very fantastical tale and fantastically tells a very realistic tale... due in very large part to the work of Michael Shannon who, if the movie gods are just, will land an Oscar nomination in three months time' - Cinema Romantico


  1. Lovely review! Great film, I loved it.

  2. Thanks Charlene, me too! Can't wait for Nichols' next film.

  3. Love that last sentence. Perfectly expresses how that ending makes you feel. Great review and glad to see you enjoyed it. And thanks for the link!

  4. Cheers Nick. I think the ending is utterly perfect. Needed something that fit with the rest of the film but equally wasn't a standard ending. Tried to avoid discussing it in the review but yeah, really loved it. No problem with the link.