"A gas mask ain't something you wanna go cheap on..."
Few films leave me stunned from imagery and story. Of note, Prisoners and I Melt with You have been some of the most divisive films I've ever seen, in my opinion, leaving me to question the morality of the characters, their motivations, and what exactly the director is trying to communicate to me as an audience member. Take Shelter certainly falls into this lump of films that say more than they're letting on.
Having seen this film once, I knew what I was in for in terms of the narrative. What I wasn't prepared for was to fight myself, scene by scene, to keep interest. Given the narrative is a one-and-done, meaning it tells all that's needed in one sitting, the lengthy shots and meandering through the plot was harder to watch the second time because I knew how the confusing narrative ends.
I'll delve into spoilers in this review, so read cautiously if you intend to see the film. I will mark the beginning of my talk regarding specifics, and you'll see "SPOILERS AHEAD" when I reach that point. I will also include an "END OF SPOILERS" point that you can finish my review if you've not seen it yet. Be on the lookout for both of those texts.
Micheal Shannon is great at brooding. So much so that I think he falls into that category a little too often. I can't see many actors playing the role he has in this film, and the slow trudge to the end climax makes his performance a bit harder to watch because I grew impatient with his stoic staring into space.
While his method works really well in the film, I believe the 2-hour runtime really crippled my desire to see him sulk about in every scene. Another reason why Shannon is so hard to watch is because of his character's self-affecting pride. He is acting irrational for the sake of the plot, often, and I can't get behind feeling for his character and plight as much as the first pass through the film.
Jessica Chastain plays Shannon's wife, and I can't help but feel little remorse for her through my second pass through the film, as well. Her character comes off as untrusting, then complacent, then enraged, then overly emotional, and finally accepting of the issues her husband faces. In a way, she showcases as much irrational behavior as her character's husband, albeit in scenes that stand to have been accessed differently, emotionally.
At some point, the characters become prisoners to the plot of the film, reacting to Shannon's prideful characterization for sake of another fifteen minutes of screen runtime.
The sound profile alone makes the film immensely enjoyable. The use of sound bridges help develop a sense of urgency within a narrative largely concerned with showing characters staring into space and simply reacting to each other's nonverbal flailing.
Shannon's character is convinced he's going nuts and talks his physician into giving him psychotropic medication to help what he believes to be impending paranoid schitzophrenia. So we kick through slow transitions and even slower scenes, sometimes taking our characters backward emotionally from a place they'd already been, and then he decides to take six pills instead of the implied recommended two. No motivation character-wise has been shown on screen through his actions or experiences.
There's not much to note in terms of where the story's going until... he overdoses and has a seizure, which nudges the plot forward and is wrapped up tidily by him telling a passing paramedic that he has cuts in his mouth and is why he was bleeding onto his pillow during his seizure.
Chastain's character never questions anyone after the fact, and thankfully(sarcasm), he verbally recalls a dream about a co-worker that scares the shit out of him, so the next plot point where Shannon asks his boss to remove his co-worker from Shannon's work detail finds a way to be presented.
None of this adds up to a cohesive and emotionally-driven plot for the character. It's a moment of plot for the sake of plot, and is my largest gripe.
END OF SPOILERS
I'd likely never watch this movie a third time. It is so slow moving and dependent upon plot points that it became a chore to sit through without finding another source of entertainment.
I will absolutely recommend the film to anyone who wants to know more about Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, due simply to the fact that as slow as the film was, they both provided a tremendous amount of emotional range.
The dream states and how you are read them are quite enjoyable, as well, though not as effective the second time. This film is a great one-time-view film, and many will enjoy it. As far as entertainment value goes, I felt the film could use about 30 minutes less meandering and it would be a far more dynamic piece of art.