Monday, November 5, 2012

Horror Film Review

Take Shelter (2011):  Honestly, I don't know where to start with this one.  See those film festival icons on the movie poster?  Now, usually those are warning sign for me; however, two are from Cannes and the third is from Sundance.  Yeah.  So you know it's not going to suck.  But is it horror?  Not really.  Is it a tense, psychological roller coaster ride?  Most definitely.  What's it about?  Ah, well, you then, er...  Oh, hell...I'll lay it out.  You decide.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) has a good life; a loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and hearing-impaired daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), and a job working with his best friend Dewart (Shea Whigham).  Then the nightmares begin.  He dreams of a monstrous thunderstorm spitting weird, greasy amber rain and then of being attacked by those he loves most; his dog, his wife, and best friend.  A sense of intense foreboding suddenly infects Curtis' waking life and he becomes obsessed with enlarging and outfitting their tornado shelter (to the point of installing plumbing, stocking food, and buying gas masks).  Kind of like Kevin Costner's baseball diamond obsession in Field of Dreams but with a much less understanding wife.  Given that his mom was locked away in an asylum, Curtis fears for his own sanity but continues working on the shelter...even after he's fired and his estranged brother tries talking sense into him.  All comes to a head when the town's tornado siren wails in the middle of the night.  This is it, Curtis thinks.  They hunker in the shelter wearing the gas masks until Samantha demands he open the door.  He thinks certain death awaits outside.  Opening the door represents the watershed moment of his life.  If he's right, all his crazy actions are justified.  If he's wrong, he has to accept reality and get professional help.  He's wrong.  They go to a shrink who recommends he become a psych inpatient after they return from a beach vacation.  For the good of the family, Curtis agrees.  At this point, you think the film's basically over.  Later, while building sandcastles with her dad, Hannah stops and just stares at something huge in the sky.  Then fat drops of greasy amber rain begin to fall as Curtis' nightmare storm rolls their way. what's wrong with Take Shelter?  Not much, truth be told.  One small gripe is that in a couple of the nightmares, faceless strangers that are hinted to be zombies go after Curtis and Hannah.  Nothing more was done with that, which is a shame.  And how the nightmares translate into a pathological need to prepare for an unknown cataclysm isn't fleshed out.  While the connection may be clear in Curtis' head, we're not let in on it.  Some kind of premonition?  Dunno.  My final complaint is regarding a contrivance that involves Hannah.  They're told the health insurance company (through Curtis' job) has at last approved an implant procedure to get Hannah hearing again.  Procedure is to be done in six weeks but then Curtis is fired and told his benefits will run out in two weeks.  Nothing more really from this story thread, but the worst part is that you saw it coming a mile away.

Take Shelter reminded me a lot of Signs (the Mel Gibson flick).  Both take place in rural locales and both present understated yet incredible tension when average folks are forced to deal with an extraordinary situation.  Oddly, Michael Shannon reminds me of Joaquin Phoenix.  Not sure that's a good thing or not.


Acting:  Top shelf, first rate stuff.  Shannon deserves a Best Actor Oscar.  No joke.
Story:  Not only unique but it pushes all the right buttons.  Impressive.
Direction:  Near perfect pacing and character development.  Director (Jeff Nichols who also wrote) deserves some love from the Academy as well. 
Production Values:  It was made for $5 million but has the look of a film made for three times that amount.  No complaints.
Gore/FX:  The storm sequences are very cool and somehow seem more real than real storms.  I know that makes no sense, but it's true.  The flocking bird sequences are also amazing. 
Scares:  The nightmares will have you on the edge of your seat but won't make you jump.
Ending:  I was hoping for a little more, frankly.  A little more explanation of what the hell the storm is and more of a hint of its eventual effect.  As it is, though, it's nothing to sneeze at.
Verdict:  Should you see Take Shelter?  If you're a fan of horror movies only, then probably not.  But if you're a fan of really good movies regardless of genre, then you shouldn't miss it. 
Rating:  4 out of 5

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