Blue-collar construction worker Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a content family man whose life is thrown upside-down when he begins seeing apocalyptic visions of an intense storm. Worried about his wife (Chastain) and young daughter (Stewart), Curtis becomes increasingly paranoid and obsessively worried, before deciding to build a finance-draining storm shelter in the backyard. As his mother was a schizophrenic though, Curtis isn’t sure whether he’s imagining these visions or if they’re genuine premonitions of a terrible disaster to come…
Quite rightly heralded as one of the best indie movies of the year, Take Shelter is a terrific, slow-burn psychological drama, which is much more involving than one might initially imagine. On the surface, sure, it starts out as a low-key character piece which flits between mundane day-to-day events, but what draws you in is the ominous undercurrent of mounting dread which is impressively-sustained by writer-director Jeff Nichols throughout. Visually, the film occasionally resembles the work of Terrence Malick with its sporadic flashes of haunting scenery porn (some leaves blowing beautifully in the wind here, a strikingly-clear blue sky there), yet the underlying sense of looming dread always lingers on the horizon in truly unsettling fashion.
While Nichols’ script also finds the time to capture the crippling financial stress which burdens many individuals in today’s economically-unsure climate, it’s the wonderfully ambiguous nature of Curtis’ plight which proves most gripping. Is he suffering from paranoid schizophrenic delusions or seeing genuine premonitions that shouldn’t be ignored? Is he going crazy or has he been blessed with some form of prophetic ability? Regardless, there’s no question that Michael Shannon is, like the movie itself, utterly mesmerising and sustains our interest entirely, even during the slight lulls. Playing a man on the edge of insanity, he’s an utterly perfect choice, as one of the most exciting and intense screen actors working today (his explosive, inevitable eruption at a community gathering is absolutely entrancing). In support, Jessica Chastain (surely one of the busiest and best actresses of 2011) also stands out, adding yet another notable performance to her quickly-impressive resume.
Easily one of the best indie movies of 2011 and a strong contender overall, Take Shelter is a terrific, slow-burn psychological drama which showcases a magnificent central turn from Michael Shannon.