Melbourne International Film Festival – Take Shelter review

Take Shelter – Starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham. Directed by Jeff Nichols. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

Take Shelter plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday 6 August.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols’ sophomore film, Take Shelter, is a slow-burn mix of family drama and thriller driven by the mental breakdown of its lead, Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon). Fully aware schizophrenia runs in his family, Curtis begins having hallucinations and fears he’ll end up in a group home like his mother. The apocalyptic visions begin in his dreams and slowly seep into everyday life. Curtis attempts to hide his dreams from his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain), his daughter, and the close-knit community they live in; but when his paranoia about a coming storm of unseen proportions gets out of control, he sinks all of their money into a tornado shelter and puts both his job and family at risk.

Take Shelter is an interesting exploration of mental illness (and the prominence of disastrous weather conditions proving to be popular this year, with Lars von Trier’s Melancholia exploring similar ground). Nichols throws us into the deep end initially, making us question what is real and what is imagined; the hallucinations come thick and fast before the film plateaus in the middle. Thankfully, Nichols knows when to amp up the intensity again and the film’s climax, while questionable, certainly has you on the edge of your seat.

Michael Shannon delivers a solid, controlled performance as a man battling his own mind. Chastain proves she’s an actress to keep an eye on, after her performance in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and here as a strained wife trying to support her husband. What impresses most about the film is the control between such opposing ideas; on the one hand you have these vivid hallucinations expertly created by a visual effects team, and on the other you have a devastating intimate portrait of a family in crisis, acted with no tone of melodrama but rather realism.

Take Shelter is an arresting and through provoking film that makes you question the fine line we all walk every day between having everything and losing it all.

4/5

Take Shelter plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday 6 August

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