Blick Tolkien reviews Take Shelter

Take Shelter 120 min., 2011
Written by Jeff Nichols
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Language: English
My rating: ★★★★

He’s scared of it being wet…go figure.

* * *


How one defines “horror” is at the crux of this review. If horror is about what leaves you unsettled, shakes you to your core, or taking the ordinary and making it seem grand and overwhelming then I think this film classifies. Even though this was not done in a Hitchcockian style, the tone and the acting for some reason conjure him to mind (at least for me.) This tale follows Curtis, his wife Samantha, daughter Hanna, and his coworker/ best friend Dewart. Curtis, who is played by Michael Shannon, seems to be the average guy living in a small farming town in Ohio. One night he wakes from a dream where orange rain is pouring from the skies and a storm that rages in the distance is heading toward him. I used the word dream because initially it doesn’t unsettle him enough to classify as a nightmare. As time progress, however, the dreams become more invasive and fill him with a deeper sense of dread and urgency.

His wife and the wife of his best friend are very close and both seem to be getting along just fine. However, Samantha is getting the sense that something is wrong with her husband but he keeps placating her with claims that his is ill or just not himself at the moment. She seems to be none the wiser until, that is, he has a dream where his dog, during this freak storm, gets loose and takes a large chunk out of his arm. The pain for him registers as being real for the majority of this day. Soon after he goes and buys a dog house and some chicken wire and his faithful companion becomes a temporary prisoner in their backyard. At this, his wife tries to confront him but again he is dismissive and she decides not to press him on the subject. He is forced to confront it as an actual problem when he wakes up from another dream in which he is driving with his daughter has an accident to avoid some people in the road and ends up breaking his windows and snatching his daughter. He wakes up from this dream paralyzed with fear in a puddle of his own urine. He warns his wife away and finally seeks a doctor.

It’s during the doctor visit where the physician against his better judgment prescribes a mild sedative, recommends a therapist, and asks after his mother. The mother, in this case, turns out to be a schizophrenic and as the story progresses you end up seeing why he wouldn’t admit to these fears. Is he going crazy? Is there something actually coming?

Herein lays the horror for me. Can you trust what you see and hear? After all, that is at the very core of who we are. Our perception defines us. And that loss of perception or a shift in it at the least can be disturbing all on its own. Add in the thought that you can’t trust yourself and that your mind may betray you and it calls everything into question. I have to say that Michael Shannon wears this fear and paranoia so well that if it were a suit it would have to a custom-made Armani masterpiece. This driving fear pushes him to go visit his mother and ask her how or when she started losing her grip on reality. After his questions yield no solid results he is forced to operate on the assumption that he is right and his visions are real.

Operating on the assumption that there is a storm coming that will turn his closest friends and lifelong neighbors into deranged versions of themselves he has to find a way to safeguard his family from this inevitable threat. He begins renovating an old storm shelter on his land by adding & burying a large shipping container on to it, becoming so obsessed in his quest to provide a safe haven that he takes out a loan on his property and even uses equipment from a job he is barely attending to complete this undertaking while jeopardizing everything he is trying to protect. After a dream where he is shaking so violently that he wakes his wife she calls 9-1-1 thinking he is having a seizure. After this display he is forced to come clean and since this latest night terror featured his best friend he asks his boss to have Dewart transferred to another team. After that Dewart decides to tell his boss all about the illegal use of equipment from the job site leading to his suspension but Curtis’ termination. Losing his job would be bad enough with all the loans pending but in addition to that his daughter who is hearing impaired is scheduled for surgery to get a cochlear implant which they can’t afford without the insurance from his job.

His wife, to her credit, stands by her man and when an actual storm comes he rushes them to the safety of the shed. Even after the storm passes he can’t bring himself to open the shelter. His wife tells him that if he doesn’t then he won’t be able to get any better and in that moment he chooses to be with his family rather than let the fear consume him. There are a few more scenes in the film but I don’t want to give the ending away so I’ll leave it to other reviewers to let the ending go.

This film suffers from a few problems. The scenes are structured to build suspense but the pacing in parts is too slow. It drags it out needlessly for the sake of building the mystique. It makes the story a little hard to stay interested in. none of the characters are very interesting in the sense that they are just milling about living life so that’s not detracting from the story and you honestly don’t feel the need to know them but overall it makes our main character seem more alien in this place. It was a joy and I wanted to give it 3 stars but the pacing was holding me back. I will give it a 3 but in my mind it’s a 2.5. It’s worth seeing if you find the time, but try to remember as horror fans this is more a drama or psychological thriller than straight up horror. Until next time kiddies I hope all your films bring fright.

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About Zeb Carter

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at
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