Monday, October 3, 2011

Take Shelter

Take Shelter
seen @ Angelika Film Center, New York NY

When I lived in Ohio, I was first introduced to the concept of tornado sirens. This was not something I was prepared for - and I did a lot of legwork about life in Columbus prior to moving there. I don't know if they do this in other Ohio cities, but in Columbus, the tornado siren gets tested every Wednesday at noon. It's a long, loud horn that lasts less than thirty seconds. It's loud enough that it can be heard all throughout the downtown area and the immediate neighborhoods surrounding it, and even a little bit further than that. The first time I heard it, I swear to god I thought the Martians were preparing to invade.

One gets used to it over time, of course, but sometimes, depending on weather conditions, it could go off at other moments. I vividly recall not being able to sleep late one night for hearing the siren during some particularly stormy weather. This was perhaps a couple of months or so into my sojourn in Columbus, and at that moment, with the wind and rain lashing the window, the siren wailing like the howl of some supernatural beast stalking the night, and me huddled underneath my sheet, all alone in the apartment while my roommate was at work... I was feeling many miles from home.

I couldn't help but think of that when I saw Take Shelter yesterday, a movie set in rural Ohio about a guy plagued by dreams of impending doom and the lengths he goes to in order to safeguard his family from it. The portents are usually heralded by rain and thunder, among other things. In Columbus, I had often heard it said that if you don't like the weather, then wait a few minutes. Sometimes, though, even the slightest change in weather is enough to get people riled up. (I satirized this in my old Columbus comic strip one week.)

I hadn't planned on seeing this at first. The premise sounded like M. Night Shyamalan-lite to me, for one thing (truthfully, though, it did remind me of Signs). More importantly, though, I wasn't interested in another impending-apocalypse or post-apocalypse-type film, which we've seen quite a few of in the past few years as we get closer and closer to the Mayan 2012 deadline (nothing will happen, folks). I read a lot of positive buzz about the film, however, especially for Michael Shannon's performance, so I figured I'd give it a try - and I even chose to splurge by seeing it at the Angelika. I liked it a lot. Take Shelter is basically one long Twilight Zone episode (I even figured out the ending), but it's done well, and the acting, by both Shannon and Jessica Chastain, is exemplary and makes it worth watching.

The film's tone feels biblical in that Shannon's character Curtis' situation is not unlike that of a prophet of the Old Testament, yet religion and spirituality don't play a part in this story. Curtis and his wife Samantha do practice some brand of Christianity, but never once does he attribute his dreams to divine inspiration of any kind. He doesn't believe he's getting messages from God (or the Devil, for that matter); in fact, he takes a very secular approach to dealing with his dreams, and that surprised me. He doesn't talk much about what he thinks they mean. I suspect this was a conscious decision on the part of director Jeff Nichols. The net result is that the film takes on the level of allegory. When Curtis exclaims, "There is a storm coming!" you don't really believe he's talking about a literal storm - although he could be. It's all very open to interpretation, like any prophecy.

I got to the Angelika early, so I hung out in the cafe while waiting for the auditorium to open. I was hungry, so I thought I'd buy something to eat. I don't think I've talked about the Angelika's cafe. It's got a wide selection of snacks, sandwiches and beverages, but most of it is overpriced. I ended up getting a Rice Krispy treat for four and a quarter that was skimpy on the marshmallows; the whole thing was falling apart in my hands even as I tried to eat it. Regardless, the cafe is a nice place to chill while you're waiting. There's a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and European movie posters on the surrounding walls. You have to be quick to get on line once it becomes time to go downstairs, though.


  1. What a cool name for a theater, Angelika. Wow, this film wasn't even on my radar but sounds really intriguing. I've just seen Shannon for the first time ever in Machine Gun Preacher (which I'll be reviewing later this week) and was impressed by his performance though I feel he's kind of underused. I also like Jessica in The Debt so I reckon the performances are good. Nice review, Rich.

  2. Fine review, Rich. The film sounds intriguing and I'm a fan of Michael Shannon (having been alerted by my friend J.D.'s excellent review of his work in the fine neo noir The Missing Person). I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

    p.s., back in the 60/70s, here in L.A., every friday the Civil Defense sirens would be tested throughout the city. Along with the stop, drop, cover drills we'd do in schools, it was all for that nuclear bomb attack everyone was expecting during that era.

  3. Can't wait to see this. I just saw the trailer on another DVD and it looks really interesting. And your review confirms it.

  4. Ruth, this was the first time I had seen Shannon, and if he's as good in 'Preacher' as he is in this, then he's got quite a future ahead of him.

    Leopard, I've read about duck and cover drills from back in the day, though I didn't know it was done in big cities like LA. Interesting.

    Jess, you're in for a real treat. It's heavy, but it's worth it.


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