Why are art films becoming horror films?
Perhaps art film directors are finding that the most effective way to relate to our frazzled age is to mask it in the aesthetics of terror. Last year’s apocalyptic ballet movie, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, heralded this new trend–that movie might as well have had zombie dancers. This year it’s Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’ story of mental illness, marriage, and prophecies of doom.
Shelter stars Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche, a family man in small-town Ohio who may be having a prophecy or may be losing his mind. Either way, he’s just about perfect for the role (who can forget him in 2006’s Bug?) He keeps having visions of dead birds, murderous people, and a giant storm coming to wipe out his town. The film traces his crumbling relationship with his family as his vision turns to obsession. At great cost, he decides to expand his storm shelter to prepare for a storm that the sane world doesn’t see coming. The audience is left to question whether he is wise or deluded.
Have I liked any movies this year? I want to like Take Shelter more than I do. I do like it. But I want to feel that unconditional passion for a movie, something which I haven’t felt in some time.
I respect that Take Shelter for taking an intelligent approach to mental illness. Its picture of a supportive marriage is refreshing. Shannon has a lot of great moments without saying much, and Chastain has more of an impact than her limited character might be entitled to. However, for a film with an unusual plot (although very similar to Todd Haynes’ brilliant Safe), it’s strangely predictable. Its too-cute twist ending also undermines the rest of the movie without producing any gain.
Its supporters argue that Take Shelter taps into the uneasy feeling we have of the present and the future we see on the horizon. We do live in an age where we wonder if today’s worst fears are tomorrow’s reality. At the same time, the apocalyptic visions here have not much precedent in real life. They seem to matter more to the people in the film than they do to us.
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