There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Take Shelter, a new psychological horror film by director Jeff Nichols. It didn’t get a wide release and it’s more of an “indie” movie: no A-list stars, no big budget, no easy film to watch. Which is a shame, since this is one fantastic movie. Here are five reasons why you should get out of your bunker and find this movie before the Halloween season is over.
1. Thrills! Is this a horror movie? Not exactly, or at least not the kind we’re used to. The story focuses on a humble family man, Curtis (Michael Shannon), who begins having strange, frightening dreams. Or are they premonitions? Signs of things to come? He’s not sure, and neither are we. The dreams are terrifying, like the best scenes of your favorite zombie or slasher movie. They’re surreal and haunting and make you jump.
2. Chills! As Curtis’s dreams get more intense, his waking life begins to fall apart. He just can’t shake his visions–or the feeling of impending doom. He concludes that the only way he can keep his family safe is to build a storm shelter in his backyard. Not an easy thing to do, when the budget it tight and everyone begins to think he’s just crazy. And maybe he is, since his family has a history of schizophrenia. The sense that something apocalyptic is approaching, coupled with the equally terrifying sight of a man losing his grip on reality and his life, gives the film its electricity. Since we don’t know what to believe, like Curtis, we’re kept guessing until the very end. The unknown is the scariest thing of all.
3. Great Acting. Michael Shannon carries the film and shines as a pensive, doubtful, conflicted man. You can see the gears turn in his head as he considers his bad dreams. You can feel his dread as he watches those around him question his sanity. Shannon does what the best actors rarely do: shows us his internal side with just a simple look. Of course, there are moments when he explodes, which makes the contrast much more shocking. Jessica Chastain, who plays Curtis’s wife Samantha, is also excellent. Chastain has been in countless movies this year and it’s clear she’s an actress to watch. Here’s yet another example as she goes from frustrated to indignant to caring to scared. She brings a needed three dimensions to an embattled wife and mother dealing with the impossible.
4. Be the first (or maybe only) kid on your block to see it. Like I said, this isn’t showing in many theaters. It’s showing in New York, so if you’re nearby it’s worth the trek. You’ll get instant cred by seeing this in theaters, telling friends you were there when it started. It’s the type of movie that you want to get other people to watch so you can talk about it. It’s a great discovery, and the theater is the best way to see a movie. While you may think it’ll be equally good on DVD, just make sure you have a big enough screen and good enough sound system. Sound is integral to the film, and the effects are spectacular (let’s just say there’s a part where something hits the pavement and the sound–a small detail–amplified the scene for me). There are also some pretty good digital effects that are seamlessly blended into the film. There are great, expansive shots that require a large format.
5. The Ending! Oh man, the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, or even hint at the ending. But it left me close to tears, that’s how unnerving it was. Sure, some of the movie may be a bit slow, a bit unexciting. You may think there are parts where the movie could have ended, as I did. But any ill-will you have to the movie will be undone by the ending, I guarantee. If not, well, we’ll just disagree. But it’s both shocking, depressing, uplifting, haunting, and completely warranted.
Will you see Take Shelter? Have you seen it already? Let me know what you think?