Curtis (Michael Shannon) has a good life: a loving wife, a daughter and a job with decent benefits. His nights as of late have been sleepless. Inescapable storms and faceless people linger threateningly in his dreamscape. He awakens, short of breath and covered in sweat.
Nothing is quite as frightening as the sight of a tornado cloud. No matter how far we run, a storm cloud will cover the distance. It is as if the fury of God is actively playing out against us. If a storm were to hit tomorrow Curtis and his family would have no place to hide. Leaving his family in a gulch is no substitute for a storm plan, so Curtis takes steps to update the shelter he has out back. It may cost some money, but they can't go without.
As plans are made without consulting his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain) everyone around him begins to worry. Loans are signed, money they don't have is spent on plywood. Their daughter, Hannah, is hearing impaired. She has a surgery that's been scheduled for months that they already can't afford, what is he doing?
Curtis's mother slipped into psychosis at a similar age, is he going already?
Mental illness or not, he won't give up his family. He can't be losing his mind, he's just providing for his family. To add to Curtis's distress, he can't seem to separate his dreams from reality. The editing of Take Shelter seamlessly blends the horrors of Curtis's nightmares with the minutiae of work, signing lessons and Lion's Club dinners.
Michael Shannon is a revelation as a man unraveling at a frenzied pace. He is primarily a character actor, but given a leading role in Jeff Nichols's second effort he mesmerizes. The pain in Shannon's eyes as he finds himself apologizing for one thing after another breaks your heart. The odds are unlikely of either Michael Shannon or Michael Fassbender garnering Oscar nods, but one can hope.
Speaking of great performances, Jessica Chastain hands in yet another—what is this—her sixth one this year? The housewife role in domestic dramas often suffers at the hands of ham-fisted writers, but Chastain embodies a sense of dignity throughout her ordeal.
A great deal of films have recently tried to capture the existential panic of living on the edge during a recession, none of them have succeeded quite as brilliantly as Take Shelter. Scenes where Curtis and Samantha argue over their debts is as fraught with tension as some heist sequences.
David Winger's score is reminiscent of wind chimes blowing in the breeze, calling to a future storm. The score meshes with the film so effortlessly that the mere hint of it sent shivers down my spine. It should come as no surprise that the stunning conclusion did as well.
A beautiful film visually and in its execution, Take Shelter leaves one lost for words upon exiting the theatre —it is quite simply mesmerizing.