Review: Taking Shelter

Written by: Dee Pilgrim

This film builds so slowly, impatient viewers may be getting fidgety before it reaches its climax. But losing concentration or leaving before the end will rob you of a rather unique viewing experience; a film that ends up nowhere near where you think it is going to take you.

The excellent Michael Shannon (who is getting better with every film he makes) plays solid family man Curtis, living in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their hearing-impaired daughter Hannah. Their lives are unremarkable and the down-to-earth Curtis is not the kind of person you would expect to suffer from flights of fancy or paranoid delusions. But when he starts to experience terrifying dreams he is aghast; could these really be the harbingers of some apocalyptic natural disaster? Or is the mental disorder that runs through his family, and which he has dreaded all his life, finally starting to take hold of him?

Michael Shannon in Taking Shelter
What Curtis does next (basically he builds his family a hugely expensive storm-proof shelter) is either the mark of a very sane man (if his dreams are to be believed), or the manifestation of the onset of madness, which is what nearly everyone around him thinks. Fearfully watching their life falling apart, and wanting to help her husband in any way she can, Samantha shows superhuman forbearance as she struggles to understand what is happening to him. But Curtis is taciturn by nature and until he can let Samantha into the mental anguish he is experiencing, his fears – and indeed hopes of surviving them – remain hidden.

So the atmospheric tension (in all senses) builds until you can almost hear the static electricity crackling in the air. Director Jeff Nichols expertly veers away from letting hysteria take over, letting things progress in a wholly believable manner, each new scene adding a layer of detail to Curtis’s fears and state of mind.

Shannon, with his lantern jaw and broad shoulders, is the embodiment of a solid man almost brought to his knees by inexplicable things beyond his understanding, while fast-rising star Chastain is excellent as Samantha who is willing to do everything she can to heal her so obviously hurting husband.

Don’t try and second-guess the climax to this movie; let it come to you in its own good time as it will well reward the slow pace of the wait before it.

Author: Dee Pilgrim

Dee always knew she wanted to make her living from writing and so trained as a journalist before working for a variety of music and women’s titles including Sounds, Company, Cosmopolitan, Ms London, New Woman, and Girl About Town. After going freelance she concentrated on celebrity interviews and film, theatre, music and restaurant reviews. Her love of film goes back to her very first cinema experience at the age of five when her mother took her to see Bambi. She cried. At one time she was the Film Editor for NOW magazine and also the secretary for the film section of the Critics’ Circle and the celebrity coordinator for its annual film awards’ event. She has written a number of books for teenagers through Trotman Publishing, including five Real Life Guides to vocational careers (including Carpentry, Plumbing and Catering), and also three books on Real Life Issues (Money, Bereavement and Self Harm). Her favourite film is still Bladerunner.

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