“Take Shelter,” reviewed

“Take Shelter,” reviewed (photo)

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There were plenty of horror movies at Fantastic Fest 2011, stories of ghosts and aliens and human centipedes. But far and away the scariest film of the festival was one that hit much closer to home, with no monsters at all save the ones inside the dark corners of our own minds. It’s called “Take Shelter,” and it’s not just one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in quite a while, it’s also one of the best.

The film is literally nightmarish. Soon-to-be Oscar nominee Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a construction worker living in rural Ohio with his wife Samantha (“The Tree of Life”‘s Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter. He is a good man with a good life until a bad night’s sleep brings him a terrifying vision. In it, he sees an oncoming storm of immense proportions. It’s pouring weird, brown, oily rain. The next night, the dream returns and intensifies; the night after that, it happens again.

Curtis becomes convinced these dreams are a real warning sign of something terrible coming. Maybe a storm really is headed his way. Or maybe the dreams portend something else. At around the same age Curtis is now, his mother suffered a mental breakdown. Is he headed for one of his own? Ever the pragmatist, Curtis begins to prepare for the worst on two fronts: since all his dreams revolve around awful storms, he builds out the antiquated storm shelter in his backyard. And since his mother’s illness could be hereditary, he seeks psychiatric counseling. The one thing he doesn’t do, at least at first, is tell Samantha about either.

What follows is a haunting and moving illustration of President Franklin Roosevelt’s old adage that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, as Curtis’ anxiety about an uncertain future quickly proves just as destructive to his life and his marriage as any hurricane could be. If you’ve never suffered from a panic attack, and want to know what it feels like, watch “Take Shelter.” This movie is a panic attack in cinematic form. Because Curtis’ nightmares are so vividly real, it’s not always immediately apparent whether you’re watching dream or reality. And when they happen, the dreams are so truly unsettling that you watch the movie the way Curtis lives his life: constantly in dread of their return. Even in seemingly calm scenes, your pulse quickens and your palms sweat. This movie played me like a fiddle. A quivering, covering-my-eyes-because-the-movie’s-too-scary baby-shaped fiddle.

Michael Shannon, quickly becoming his generation’s Christopher Walken — makes strange and unpredictable career movies, shines in smart, uncommercial independents, enlivens crummy mainstream projects with wild performances — is absolutely perfect as Curtis. He’s restrained when he needs to be and full-on crazysauce when the scene demands. Chastain, though, might arguably have the tougher role. She inarguably has the less showy role, since she has to react to a man who is incredibly guarded about his emotions. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the part’s limitations she’s better here than she was in “The Tree of Life,” particularly as she watches Curtis’ sanity slip further and further away. By the time the family is hunkered down in that storm shelter, she’s stealing scene after scene from Michael Shannon. That’s no easy task.

But then nothing is easy about “Take Shelter,” which was written and directed by Jeff Nichols. I’ve never met the man, but watching this nakedly personal film, I feel like I know exactly who he is. Like Nichols — and like Curtis — I’m a man in my thirties with a young family. I’m lucky enough not to come from a family with a history of mental illness, but I do know what it’s like to freak out about the future, to worry that global warming is going to kill us all, or to feel like there’s absolutely nothing any of us can do about it. I might be a little nuts myself — don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind — but if I am, I don’t think I’m alone. I think Nichols has tapped into something much more powerful out in the cultural zeitgeist.

Some movies hit us on an emotional level. Others stimulate us intellectually. The best movies do both, and that’s what “Take Shelter” does. It speaks to anxieties that a lot of us feel about our lives and the world at large without resorting to cheap horror movie tactics. Moments terrified me until I was gripping my armrests, and other moments moved me to tears (the ending is perfect too). Maybe the movie was blessed by good timing, opening a few weeks after Hurricane Irene became the first storm to blow through the New York City area in years. Or maybe Nichols is a good enough — and prescient enough — filmmaker to be the first guy to see the writing on the wall and make a movie about it.

“Take Shelter” is now playing in limited release. If you see it, we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.