Culpable, calculated storms and inference fuels an otherwise ordinary storm chaser who turns out to be right, mostly for all the wrong reasons. Take Shelter reminds the viewer that mediocre has a place and that place is often brutally run-of-the-mill and crowded with low and no budget films struggling to tell bland stories.
It’s easy to fault a film that stumbles for lack of extravagance, which is forgivable but a film that purposefully mires itself in tiny revelations involving breakfast sausage and excavators is neither cinematic nor particularly engaging. The fact so many have and had so much to say about such a dreary tale of forgettable nano seconds only further proves movie reviewers and two-minute bloggers are often smitten by their own deflowered expectations. Take Shelter is hardly more than a microscope concentrated on the crumbling dreams and happenstance of small town Americana where madness runs in the family and odd behavior is just that – odd. In a film that never quite produces remarkable in a story that makes no effort to prove otherwise, it is very nearly criminal the way in which a poster like this can entice you to watch almost anything only to count yourself victim of mediocrity.
If American Novelist and Poet Don Williams Jr. had it right that “our lessons come from the journey, not the destination” I suppose Take Shelter might actually have something interesting to say – like beware, verisimilitude can kill the senses. It makes every effort to portray normal but can’t get beyond which crayon to use. Where it ends up is lost somewhere between a thriller in the neighborhood of Falling Down and the over the top extravagance of a blockbuster like Twister but is too far from either to be anywhere near that interesting. You would be hard pressed to find the kind of storms portrayed on the poster or anywhere for that matter. Perhaps writer-director Jeff Nichols was simply playing off his own take on the idea and nature of storms – those both internal and external. It is obvious Nichols has a very specific approach to story that takes a lot for granted – such as his obsession with the infinitesimal over a painstakingly slow crawl to and through the second act. Maybe he wants us to think about the storms that live inside us as we wait for the film to get going.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) and his wife (Jessica Chastain) and their daughter eek out a living in a small Ohio town that could probably pass for just about anywhere no one wants to live. For some reason these towns are always the same place where people live unremarkable lives until someone loses their mind. Things go on until they begin to go wrong. Curtis starts hearing things and that leads him to seeing stuff other people don’t. He has a couple of bad dreams, visits his mom who got put in a hospital for the same things some years back and all that reveals something sinister brewing. Imagine a tea kettle set on low, the slow rumbling of water, the fiery hiss to a whistle that never happens. Everything rides on Shannon (Revolutionary Road) and Chastain (The Help) to fill in the blanks but it’s obvious there are far too many for the films own good. The thing about snapshot ordinary, about character studies and films that set out to capture and magnify normal is how much we realize bleak Americana and social malaise is often too close to home to entertain much less distract us from how much it costs to fill up the station wagon.
There is an interesting place for storms in varying stages of unrest in movies and in our lives. Sometimes for no reason at all we lose control of them and they threaten every thing and every one around us. The trouble with this film is that it doesn’t live up to its potential. Nichols is just not able to get at the slow determined evolution of Curtis’ break down in a visually interesting way and consequently his character never gets off the page. I can’t help but wonder what competition this film had at all those film festivals or what color the Kool aid was so I can check the expiration date on the case I just bought at Costco. Eventually the end draws near, thankfully but by then you’ve either gone off to make a peanut butter sandwich or busied yourself selecting popcorn kernels for projectiles you only think about throwing – away. If you missed this one count yourself lucky – if not, count yourself consoled.