Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Take Shelter": a new indie thriller in the tradition of "The Last Wave", "The Birds", and even "Inception"; we've been warned!

I hope I’m not playing “spoiler” by hinting that the new thriller from director Jeff Nichols “Take Shelter” (Sony Pictures Classics) recalls to mind the 1977 Peter Weir film “The Last Wave” from Australia. That film, perhaps a prescient warning about climate change, would be a good topic for my other “disaster movies” blog. 

That comparison may dig deeper than just the outcome. But Nichols film struck me even more as a character study, of a family man disintegrating, while his madness may indeed enable him to see dangers others miss.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) is already having discipline problems with his boss at work for a quarry west of Cleveland. His wife Samantha, Jessica Chastain (“The Tree of Life”; “The Help”; “The Debt”), is genuinely supportive as Curtis, not yet 40, starts having seizures and bleeds in their bed, and yet getting a cochlear implant for their hearing-impaired little girl is the top family priority. 

Perhaps it’s a little hard to believe that Curtis does get the “loan” to build the underground shelter he sees as necessary to protect his family from the coming apocalypse.  His borrowing company equipment gets him fired, and the scene where his boss comes to his house to terminate him is particularly brutal.  So is a confrontation with a coworker at a community potluck where he announces “There’s a storm coming.”   The interesting thing is that he is so into his own mind but wants to protect others, in his own way.

The movie plays up the psychiatric element, with the history of his mother’s commitment for schizophrenia, and his own therapy sessions.  Still, it constantly retains the edge of a thriller, moving in on horror, almost in a way as to put “average” horror films to shame.  The film blends dreams and reality (suggesting ideas in “Inception”) and has some scenes evocative of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.

A storm does come, and when the family is in the shelter, I worried he would lose the key, and become entombed (as in a Poe story).  But there will be one last surprise.

The film was shot in Ohio, and the setting is named as Elyria, a small "rust belt" city on US 20 about 10 miles east of Oberlin and 25 miles west of Cleveland.  I spent my summers as a boy in Kipton, five miles west of Oberlin. 

A few streets in the film looked familiar (the east side of Oberlin?)  The house in the film may have been located near Route 58, south of Oberlin, in an area with some gas wells (one of which provided for an aunt's income;  people don't realize this area has oil and natural gas and that retirees depend on it for income). The film also showed an intersection near LaGrange, a major location of the film "Farmageddon".  It seems as though Ohio and Michigan are getting aggressive about getting films shot there ($$$  and new jobs). 

Here is Sony’s official site.

The 2.35:1 photography on expansive “Midwestern” landscapes gives this relatively low budget film a big look.  David Wingo’ music score adds to the sense of menace.

Here’s an interview with Jeff Nichols:

Note: pictures, of the Oberlin and Kipton, Ohio area, are mine, form a 2010 trip for an aunt's memorial service. One of the houses had the words "c-sharp" on the front entrance, suggestive of a musical note (C#-minor of the Moonlight Sonata, maybe.)   In general, though, the scenery in the film very much resembles these photos. A couple of my photos catch a thunderstorm (in October, no less) over an Ohio Turnpike service area.  When I was a boy, summer thunderstorms around Kipton were much more violent than those at home around Washington DC.  

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