Take Shelter - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Take Shelter Reviews

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Super Reviewer
November 16, 2015
A guy's nightmares convince him that perhaps his family would be well served by expanding the tornado shelter out in the back yard. Only there's the history of mental instability in his family ... is it his turn to now slide into that dark abyss? His neighbors, his colleagues at work, and eventually even his wife start to wonder as well. Terrifically played by all concerned, but Shannon and Chastain really reel you into the consideration with the level of their involvement. Good filmmaking.
Super Reviewer
August 26, 2012
Just like Melancholia and We Need to Talk About Kevin, "Take Shelter" is another movie that is very well-made, yet very uncomfortable to watch. In fact, the film is especially comparable to the former, which also uses the film medium to portray a mental illness through some sort of impending doom. "Take Shelter" has the benefit of Michael Shannon's amazing performance, and Jeff Nichols definitely knows how to make audiences care about the characters. Unfortunately, it has an uncompromisingly oppressive atmosphere, which is the point but still makes it a tough watch for most audiences. Also, the little girl in this movie somehow doesn't cry despite one trauma-inducing scenario after another.
Super Reviewer
½ November 15, 2013
From Start to finish this movie sucked. Its a wonder it didn't ruin Michael Shannon carrer. 2 hours long are you kidding me, was this someone's tax write off. If you give thiss anything above 2 stars please I say please dont ask me to go to the movie with you. 1/2 star 11-09-13
Super Reviewer
½ May 5, 2013
A man with a family history of mental illness believes that his family is endangered by natural disasters.
Michael Shannon, the man who made Bug even more amazing than it already was and who rocked the insane sorority girl's email, delivers an astounding performance in this film. What is so great about him is his restraint, while underneath one can see a seething pit of emotional energy. His work in the film solidifies him as one of the best new actors. Jessica Chastain is also good.
The film as a whole snuck up on me. I thought it was moving slowly and predictably until the last act. Shannon's work was compelling, but the plot didn't find its legs until the end, but once it did, the scenes were compelling, and I found that I had grown to care about these characters.
Overall, this is an astounding thriller, and Shannon is a fantastic actor.
Super Reviewer
January 5, 2013
In Take Shelter, writer/director Jeff Nichols explores not only our own concepts of reality vis a vis the film itself, but delves into how others perceive and deal with the possibility that something just isn't right.

What we are given is Curtis, an honest man living in a small town in Ohio who is struggling with the added financial burden of special needs classes for his deaf daughter. Nichols hits all the right touches of a bonded family, with wife Samantha supplementing the family income by sewing and embroidering while caring for their daughter. Yet slowly a darkness descends on their lives as Curtis, in a wonderfully measured performance by Michael Shannon, begins to have visions of apocalyptic proportions. The central question is whether these visions and nightmares are prophetic or a sign of mental illness. Nichols walks a fine line in leaving that determination to the viewer.

The juxtaposition between small town life where everyone seems to know everyone else (and their business) and the wonderfully filmed sequences of thunderheads crackling with lightning set the tone as Curtis and wife Samantha (well played by Jessica Chastain) go about their daily lives only to be thrown into having to face the darkness - these scenes of outrage, followed by redemption and acceptance show the strength of their love and their commitment to each other and the family they have created. It's this bond as well as the way in which Nichols so easily gives us a view of a way of life that not only adds to the suspense but separates this film from so many other neo apocalyptical films (for in this case the film isn't so much about the apocalypse (because it may or may not be real, or may or may not be mere metaphor), but about a man's mind and his soul, as well as the soul of his loving wife.

The film certainly takes a measured pace in doling out the story, which at times dampens the tension, but overall this is a terrific study in humanity and how the human mind is capable of projecting our fears into our dreams - whether or not this is an illness, or part of the human condition is part and parcel of the film's mystery. Check it out and decide for yourself.
Super Reviewer
½ October 19, 2011
Curtis lives in a small town and lives a quiet life working construction as a means to support himself, his wife, and their young daughter who is deaf. One day, Curtis begins having nightmarish visions and dreams of a major storm of apocalyptic visions, and becomes feverishly driven to work on a storm shelter and make the necessary proportions to survive what could be the virtual end of mankind. Since he does have a family history of mental illness, it could all just be in his head, but even then, he is compelled to see his quest through to the end, despite the toll it takes on his personal and professional lives, and the persecution he receives from others.

This is not only the best 'descent into madness' film I've seen in a while, it's one of the best of that type in general. The modest budget indie route was also probably the best way to go for this film too, because I can't see it working as well as a major budget studio affair. The film has a great atmosphere that is tense, subtle, creepy, and really nuanced.

What effects there are are great, but the real strength lies with the writing, but especially the acting. Michael Shannon knocks it out of the park here, and this is one of his bet performances. His casting could seem slightly on the nose, but I think he still really sells it perfectly. Jessica Chastain appears as his concerned wife, and I'm really starting to like her. It probably helps too that she's been in a ridiculous number of movies over the past couple of years, but I don't think it's just the high amount of exposure. She really is a capable actress who should have a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

I like that the film spends a lot of time towing the line between what could be real, and what could be imaginary. It really sucks you in and draws out the suspense even more. Answers are given, but even then, you still find yourself questioning things. This is some of the most compelling film making I've seen in a while.

Definitely give this one a shot. It's haunting and really unforgettable.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ August 5, 2012
In my review of The Road, I commented on our culture's fascination with the end of the world - a fascination which has produced a stream of science fiction and action movies which use the annihilation of our species to explore social and political issues. Eighty years after this trend started with the appropriately-titled End of the World, we now have Take Shelter, a haunting and slow-burning psychodrama which makes a far better case than The Road for being the great apocalyptic film for our time.

Like The Road, Take Shelter could be described as a slow-moving shaggy-dog story. It's 2 hours long and feels like it, but unlike The Road it nearly always uses the time widely. While John Hillcoat's film lacked a sense of escalation and eventually became repetitive, Jeff Nichols takes us through every single flinch of emotion in the right order, so that we know the characters inside out before the storm arrives. This is not a film which is waiting to rush headlong into the special effects - it wants to build and build so that it becomes about the people, not the punch-line.

The film draws on a number of entries in the apocalyptic thriller canon, some easier to spot than others. Nichols described it as being an indie take on the big-budget disaster movies of the 1990s, such as Twister and Deep Impact. He styled the film as being 90% indie drama and 10% special effects, while in these kinds of films it is normally the other way around (and a lot less indie). The first success of Take Shelter is the refreshing sense we get from watching real characters, whom we care about beyond any generic expectations.

The film also references to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, not only in the sequences involving birds attacking humans but in the inexplicable and intangible nature of the threat over which the characters have no control. You might also say that this is how The Happening would have turned out, had it been made by someone with brains and no ego. But by far the closest resemblance is to Michael Tolkin's little-seen The Rapture, which imagines what it would be like if the Biblical prophesies in Revelation were literally true. You won't find any seven seals, bowls of wrath or a Whore of Babylon in this film, but there is the same sense of a global, supernatural catastrophe which the world is too ignorant or frightened to acknowledge.

This resemblance is conveyed in the story's Biblical overtones. The film is on one level a retelling of Noah and the flood - a story of a man driven to build a great structure that will keep his family safe from the upcoming destruction of the world. Like Noah (and Sharon in The Rapture), Curtis' project is ridiculed by the locals, for whom spending money on doing up a tornado shelter must seem as stupid as building a boat miles from any ocean. When Darren Aronofsky's Noah arrives in 2014, this is the standard to which it will have to be compared.

As you might have gathered by now, Take Shelter departs from the disaster movies of Roland Emmerich and the like by actually using the disaster to represent something. This is not a film which is being made simply to cash in on all the nonsense surrounding Mayan prophecies or the revived interest in Nostradamus. The drama and trauma experienced by the characters reflects how we would react to an impending disaster as ordinary people, who do not conform to the conventions of action movies, and who cannot simply be divided into protagonists and obvious cannon fodder.

Take Shelter also has a decent amount of subtext about the current financial crisis. Nichols wrote the script in 2008, shortly after directing Shotgun Stories and around the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Not only are the central characters under a huge amount of financial strain, but the film positions Curtis as a Cassandra figure, representing the warnings about the housing bubble and sub-prime lending which went unheeded until it was too late. Jut as Gojira depicted a country reeling from nuclear war, so this film is about a man doing all he can to shelter his family from the crisis that will raise our financial system and society to the ground.

But for all its allegorical subtext, what really makes Take Shelter stick in your mind is the nuanced of its characters and the emotional turmoil they face. The film is a fable about devotion to one's family and sticking to your beliefs even if it means going against what seems best for those you love in the short term. The film is confident and mature enough to give us a protagonist whom we don't unequivocally back: we are still making up our mind over whether to trust Curtis right up until the moment when the yellow rain begins to fall again.

Curtis is an interesting character since we have complete emotional empathy for his cause and yet we never entirely trust him through the main part of the film. He isn't an antihero in the traditional sense, displaying no desire to rebel against society or mistreat his friends. Instead he is someone who treads the fine line between sanity and insanity, driven by his belief in what is right and his fears of becoming schizophrenic like his mother. The film gives us a great many reasons not to trust him, including this revelation - and yet we somehow go with him, believing the validity of his cause.

The film is grounded in the brilliant central performance of Michael Shannon, who is becoming the go-to actor for borderline deranged, edgy characters. Shannon is physically intimidating, with eyes that seem to look right through us: even the act of him saying that he's fine can put us on edge. But he is careful to rein this in, making us focus on his sense of tragedy, and his struggle to keep everything internalised so that he can focus on his plan without hurting his family.

Shannon is ably supported by Jessica Chastain, who was nominated for a Saturn Award for her performance. Whatever the merits of her work in The Tree of Life, Chastain seems to have more to work with here, with Nichols ensuring that her breakdowns don't feel choreographed or predictable. Special plaudits should also be given to Tova Stewart, who plays Curtis and Samantha's 6-year-old daughter and is also deaf in real life. Nichols called her one of the smartest child actors he'd met, and you never get the sense of her being manipulated to produce an emotional response.

Being a film about the end of the world, Take Shelter does involve a certain amount of special effects. Nichols is reserved in using them, but when it does become necessary to have birds attacking or furniture floating in slow-motion, he is careful to integrate it into the action. As with The Birds, we don't really notice too many technical shortcomings since we are so bound up with the fate of the characters to emotionally invest in anything else. We don't care about how well the birds are rendered or whether the waterspouts are accurate in size: all we care about is whether Curtis, Samantha and Hannah will get out alive.

Take Shelter is a great, haunting and thought-provoking film which reminds us of the potential that exists in stories about the end of the world. Shannon and Chastain's superb performances are matched by Nichols' strong screenwriting and direction, giving us a character study with depth and threat to counterpart the looming destruction of their world. Some viewers may balk at the running time, but those who stay will not be disappointed by one of the very best films of 2011.
Super Reviewer
August 4, 2012
A film I can't find fault with. Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a man who begins to have very realistic dreams concerning big storms and bizarre goings on. He is scared in case these visions come true, but also terrified that they wont as this means he may be succumbing to paranoid schizophrenia like his mother. This is what makes the film work so well for me. Many times in these films the protagonist immediately believes in the visions or prophecies they are having. Curtis' first act is to find some books on understanding mental illness. At the same time however, he is also planning for the worst by redeveloping an old storm shelter out back. This causes conflict with his wife, best friend, and the community he lives in. It's not only his paranoia of what might happen, but their paranoia over what he may become. Shannon is astonishing in the role, we never once doubt his good intentions, but always question his sanity. The most emotional thing about the film is knowing that if everything turns out OK then that means Curtis isn't OK. It's a Catch-22 that really captivates and involves the audience. The dream sequences play out more successfully than any recent horror, and we're never quite sure of when dreams begin and end. The ending is very powerful and should cause much discussion between film lovers. A wonderful film.
Super Reviewer
March 12, 2012
A gloomy and unsettling allegory centered on a modern Noah, paranoid and on the verge of a mental breakdown, played with an extraordinary intensity by Michael Shannon. A compelling drama with a careful slow pace and a glorious ending.
Super Reviewer
½ May 14, 2012
Take Shelter is an indie gem, a low key, subtle yet constantly surprising film that works on every level. The young and talented Jeff Nichols shows a very original sensibility here (combining kitchen sink realism with a side of supernatural terror). The flick is anchored by the impressive acting chops of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain (both are everywhere all of a sudden) who are more than up to the challenge.

It's the story of Curtis, a troubled, but fundamentally decent Ohio working man with a supportive wife Samantha, and lovely, hearing impaired daughter. He's on the verge of a mental collapse - he may have inherited paranoid schizophrenia from his mother (Kathy Baker). Curtis is haunted by dreams and premonitions of an apocalyptic storm. He starts to built an elaborate storm shelter on his property, behind the backs of his wife and friends, and takes out an ill advised bank loan to pay for it. Interestingly, Curtis doesn't share any of his visions (or his project) with his wife and coworkers, yet we know exactly what he's thinking at all times, and the great Shannon does it with subtext and a look. (And Nichols does it with very restrained but effective special effects, showing Curtis' imaginings).

Without histrionics, Take Shelter portrays, in totally believable and non-schmaltzy way, a couple in love and the toll that mental illness takes on a relationship. We care about both of them, and the film is empathetic to each side of the equation. Would we stay with a partner who's showing a total, scary breakdown? Chastain shows how, in a very human, not quite saint like way. The story is much like a Kitchen sink, down to earth version of The Shining, without the grotesque horror or gallows humor. It's to the credit of the film that up to the end, we wonder if there is actually an apocalypse coming. The final moment when the family comes out of the storm shelter is intensely dramatic and suspenseful.

Though Take Shelter requires some intense concentration, it will be rewarded. This film is well deserving of its accolades and I'm excited to see what Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols (and Jessica Chastian) do next.
Super Reviewer
September 16, 2011
Brilliant, revealing a metaphorical and personal case of a good man and wife struggling with his blurry and paranoid perception of reality. What happens when we no longer have something to fear - when life is good? Since bodies in our sterile part of the world no longer have parasites to attack, they defend against harmless pollens. We Americans, with all the power and military might, are not comfortable unless we are dropping bombs on someone in the world, even if it's a figment of our imagination (see Iraqi WMDs and Hussein/Al Qaeda link). When Barack Obama became President-elect, guns and ammunition sales shot through the roof in America. Fear runs rampant alongside our imaginations, and we have a lot of leisure time. Without giving the ending shot away, I'll just say that the most notable point the movie makes about our fear is that it is contagious, passed down in some degree to everyone we share it with.
Super Reviewer
March 17, 2011
Cast: Michael Shannon, Katy Mixon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Robert Longstreet, Guy Van Swearingen, Tova Stewart, Natasha Randall, Scott Knisley, Ron Kennard

Director: Jeff Nichols

Summary: Michael Shannon stars in this thriller as a small-town family man who, determined to protect his wife and deaf daughter from impending disaster, builds an impenetrable storm shelter in the safety of his own backyard.

Summary: "A dark haunting story. It ended right where I was wanting to see more. Michael Shannon is one of those acotor's that can play any role, I love watching him on screen. The movie is creepy and suspenseful. It's a slow burning story, and it's a good burn. I liked the anticipation of the ending. To finding out if he's really losing his shit or foreseeing the future. Great film."
Super Reviewer
½ March 27, 2012
One of the best films of the year...
Super Reviewer
March 19, 2012
It's a combination of amazing acting and a creative way of tackling the subject that I haven't seen done before. I genuinely cared for these characters as we were able to dig deeper into their lives and the pain they are going through as well as have a ton of story thrown our way as well.
Michael Shannon was amazing as a man who knows that he may be going crazy but has no power to stop it from happening. I can't wait to see more from this guy.
The end of the flick was great and exactly what I wanted.
Super Reviewer
½ March 2, 2012
"Sleep well in your beds. 'Cause if this thing comes true, there ain't gonna be any more."

Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

Take Shelter is just an all around incredibly unique, beautiful and haunting film. Essentially it is a drama but there is so many layers to this film. It is beautifully shot, some really stunning cinematography, it tells a story that has a post apocalyptic undertone but does so without flashy special effects or a big budget. Honestly Take Shelter must be seen to be believed. In many ways it is slow paced, a character study of a family moving towards crisis but the performances are so riveting and the concept of the film so fascinating that you literally can't take your eyes off of it.

Michael Shannon is absolutely brilliant. His performance is one of the best I have seen in months, at least. You watch his entire life break down and you will feel so much empathy for him as he moves towards a complete mental breakdown but you will also hope and wonder for him whether what he is experiencing is real. Jessica Chastain is also excellent as his devoted but concerned wife. Her character too goes through a lot in the course of the film and her and Shannon have really great chemistry. There is something very real about their marriage, not a timeless romance, but just very real and this circumstance threatens to tear them apart. Tova Stewart has a small but extremely important role and does very good as their deaf daughter who often seems disconnected from her peers. This is a powerful drama by sheer definition and a performance not to be missed by Shannon.
Super Reviewer
½ August 23, 2011
Oh boy...there's an ending that I won't easily forget. Good, well written, well acted, emotionally moving film. I have always thought that this guy (Michael Shannon) had something unique about him. I think that he greatly shows his talents in this movie. Well done..
Super Reviewer
½ March 4, 2012
Take Shelter is a good film that could have been great. A lot has been made about the film's treatment of mental illness, and while I applaud writer/director Jeff Nichols for writing a screenplay that shines a balanced, empathetic light on the subject, I really don't think this film is about that. For me, this film is an allegory about the turbulent, societal unease that bedevils contemporary American life. Early on in the film, a friend of Curtis' (Michael Shannon) remarks that he has a good life. "I think that's the best compliment you can give a man: take a look at his life and say, 'That's good.'" With an unstable economy, financial institutions in ruins, and various economic and environmental disasters looming, how quickly can that be taken away? What if everything that Curtis values suddenly vanished? We are not talking about a life of luxury and ease, but about modest comforts and reasonable expectations: a decent job with health benefits and vacation time, a loving family, a house of your own. Curtis has all of this. He works in heavy construction and comes home to the tidy home he shares with his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and their daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf. Curtis' friend's homespun truism might be that the greatest fear a man can experience is losing the good life he has. It is this anxiety, which afflicts Curtis in especially virulent form, that defines the mood of Take Shelter.

The first 20 - 30 minutes is tightly directed and punctuated by some good nightmare/hallucinatory scenes. Then, for some reason, they disappear for almost the remainder of the film. The pace slows down, and the tone becomes more observational and less impressionistic, at least until the final act. That inevitably makes the middle of the film drag, no matter how good it may be in and of itself. And tone, in general, is my biggest point of contention here. Nichols and company can't seem to figure out whether they want to be a typical "he is or isn't he crazy?" psychological drama, or something more (seems to me that the film is trying to be both). The big question is: are Curtis' dreams real or premonitions? If this were Inception or an M. Night Shyamalan brainteaser, it might turn this question into a cinematic puzzle. But while Nichols employs a handful of tried-and-true (and therefore always persuasive) shock effects to blur the viewer's sense of reality, there is something at stake beyond formal cleverness, and he often abandons that. The ambiguity that is so unbearable to Curtis - the sense that he might be losing his mind and also receiving omens of impending disaster - is crucial to the film's logic, yes, but by reveling in it, it's easy to take your eye off the prize with respect to thematic concerns.

Paranoia and uncertainty permeate our culture (Fox News makes hundreds of millions annually exploiting it). In my opinion, this is the core of what Take Shelter is about. This is a film that should be looked at more figuratively than literally, but by implementing a literal dream vs. reality plot, that's asking a lot from the viewer. What you're left with is (dare I say) a schizophrenic film that hits a lot of notes, but not all of them.
Super Reviewer
February 19, 2012
A shaggy dog story told at a very pretentiously slow pace. The biggest problem with the film is that it is nothing but constant build-up to an ending that makes the whole film pointless. The film tries to deliver tension through the hallucinatory dream sequences experienced by Curtis, the film's main character. Some of the dream sequences do have a surreal intrigue to them, but they never end up being terrifying because the film always makes it obvious when Curtis is dreaming. If the film did not give signals to when Curtis was dreaming, then their could have been more suspense because the audience is not sure whether what is happing on screen is reality or Curtis's nightmares. The film's repetitive use of dream sequences gets tedious halfway through. The film also has a snail-like pacing that makes it's two hour runtime feel much longer than it is. The film also has one of the worst endings to film I have ever seen. For two hours the film leaves things up to interpretation as to whether Curtis is insane or seeing genuine visions of the apocalypse, which is thrown away in the last five minutes of the film. The ending destroys any ambiguity the film was going for and made everything that has happened up to that point completely pointless. Aside from some good cinematography, the performances are the only things preventing this film from being completely boring. Michael Shannon, who plays Curtis, gives a performance that is very intense and sometimes riveting. He looks scary when he is furious. Jessica Chastain, who plays Curtis' wife, also gives a fairly good and believable performance. The acting may have been good, but that does not forgive the film from essentially being a glorified shaggy dog story with art-house sensibilities.
Super Reviewer
½ February 27, 2012
Plenty of aspects of 'Take Shelter' make the film powerful, engaging, and relentless. The obvious one is the acting, with a brilliant performance from Michael Shannon and a noteworthy one from Jessica Chastain as well. She is a blossoming actress who has made more than a few appearances in solid films this year ('The Tree of Life', 'The Help', 'The Debt', etc.). Aside from the great acting, the cinematography and visuals are handled very well. The script is one that focuses more on tone and mood to create a sense of building dread instead of a large amount of dialogue, and it works to perfection. 'Take Shelter' is a film that continually surprises, and clearly makes the two hour run-time well worth it. The tension that builds until the unprecedented climax is both exciting and surreal. In a number of opinions, a film that should have been entered in the Oscar race, 'Take Shelter' is powerful and tense film-making.
Super Reviewer
February 23, 2012
I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I think Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain give weight to what could have been an over the top experience (see The Happening). A slow burn, but I thought it was very well shot.
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