Fear of the end of the world is a predominant theme at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. I blame the Mayans. Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia” is a study of depression and family dysfunction set against a backdrop of impending disaster and “Taking Shelter,” starring “Boardwalk Empire’s” Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain explores pretty much the same thing but from a much different point of view.
Shannon plays Curtis a hard working husband and father who begins to have visions the apocalypse.
Plagued by nightmares, hallucinations and panic attacks, the terror he feels extends beyond his dreams. “It’s a feeling,” he says. “Something is coming.” He can’t describe what it is coming but finds solace by building a storm cellar in his backyard, a sort of panic room for him and his family to hide in when the end of the world comes. But a question remains: Is he mentally ill or is he a prophet?
“Take Shelter” is a strong effort that is marred by a disingenuous ending that feels like a cheat compared to the rest of the film. I won’t tell you what it is, and it didn’t sour me on the whole film, but it was a disappointment.
Other than that—maybe go and get a popcorn refill I the last five minutes of the film!—there’s much to enjoy here. Shannon has usually been seen playing larger-than-life characters so it’s refreshing to watch his empathic work as an everyman who doesn’t understand what is happening to him. Motivated by a great fear we feel his anxiety grow as the character surrenders his self control.
Chastain in her fourth movie this year once again proves she is as versatile as anyone working today. She brings strength, resilience and purpose to a character that could have been very one note.
“Take Shelter” is an interesting movie with beautiful cinematography, effective performances and an intriguing story. Too bad it sells itself short in the closing minutes.