Sunday, 26 February 2012

REVIEW: Take Shelter

A storm is coming ...

This film came and went in the UK without much notice - which is a horrible shame as it is one of the best films I had seen last year.

The plot is that Michael Shannon is a manual worker with a loving family, including a deaf daughter, that starts to see things in the sky. Whether it's clouds, hurricanes, or a strange flock of birds - Shannon feels that something is coming and wants to do something about it. So to protect his family, he focuses all his attention and money into a shelter in the yard. However, he is also wondering whether he is going crazy and with a family history of mental illness, is this a true premonition or the visions of a madman?

Firstly, what really stands out are the superb performances by the cast. Shannon is a logical, loving and sympathetic character which makes his turmoil ever the more real. His self-analysis mirrors the audience's own judgement of his character, he therefore becomes the subject and the viewer at the same time. For the majority of the film, he is looking onwards at the visions - he is with us, wondering, exasperating and confused. However, as the film progresses, and the shelter takes more shape his visions become more active and violent. His dreams spill over with paranoia and helplessness whether it's the family dog, the community or his own wife and in a way, each one inevitably leaves him isolated. Shannon's gritty demeanour and strong, silent, passive type is perfectly suited. It also makes more of an impact when he blows up. His relationship with his mother is telling, the family unit he comes from having been broken up and his need to keep it all together perhaps weighing too heavily on his mind.

Jessica Chastain proves again that she is a bright star for the future and needs more heavyweight roles like this. Her patience, adoration and understanding of Shannon, even in the most unforgivable situations makes the relationship realistic and heartfelt. She doesn't over-exaggerate and quietly let's Shannon evolve as a character without disrupting the focus of the film.

My only quibble was with casting is Shea Whigham as Shannon's friend. The two are main characters from Boardwalk Empire and so closely associated with the show that you can't help but watch it and remember the show. It was annoying and, nothing against Whigham's acting, it just let the film down.

Overall, the film is another critique on post-9/11 paranoia in a new age. The fact that Mother Earth herself is waging war against us through all sorts of weather temperaments is proof that this isn't just post-Katrina blues, but a sheer fear against nature and more importantly, human nature. The fear of oneself and those around you. The shelter itself is a haven for Shannon's family not against the outside world, but against himself. He must protect his family from himself and his fear of what could happen, with this schizophrenia he has diagnosed himself with is almost as dangerous as the condition itself.

It's not just sheer chance that birds seem to be the harbingers of doom. Not only are they seemingly black crows of sorts (a classic sign of death and doom - Edgar Allen Poe for instance), but they are a community, flying in the same direction, pulled this way and that ever-changing, much like the American public mindset, the community spirit almost, following by instinct it's natural path. The fact that they fly could even be linked to 9/11 - an attack from the sky against the American people. They float like a deathly ghost, a smoke and yet it's so beautiful at the same time, this melancholia, this beauty in death and destruction paints the film's emotions with shades of grey that add a real depth to it's heart.

Shannon inevitably has to take his family down to the shelter and once trapped inside his mental anguish, it takes the love of his wife for him to open the door, to take the chance, to let go of that fear and embrace the world outside. Embrace his friends and family. However, the last scene is proof that it might be okay for a while now, but it won't be for long. That fear, that paranoia, will be with them forever and will only grow stronger. It's a lasting image that no matter where you go, how happy you are, there will always be the fear of something horrible on the horizon. This could be a statement on the general American public who love to be afraid, it could be a statement on mental health (notice how his daughter spots it first) and it's ability to be passed down, it could be a statement on the character's relationship (his wife's final understanding and acceptance), it could be a statement on environmental issues, or it could be an apocalypse. Either way it makes for a tense and entertaining movie.

Rating: 8/10

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