When Curtis (Michael Shannon) begins having nightmares of an encroaching, apocalyptic storm, he refrains from telling his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain). To protect her and their six-year-old deaf daughter Hannah, Curtis starts focusing his anxiety and money into the obsessive building of a storm shelter. While Hannah's healthcare and special needs education has resulted in financial struggle, Curtis' seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns Samantha and provokes intolerance among co-workers, friends and neighbors. However, the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn't compare to Curtis' private fear of what his disturbing dreams may truly signify.
The looming presence of Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road
) was made for a role like Curtis, the haunted protagonist of Take Shelter
. On paper, Curtis would appear to be a normal mid-American husband and father; a construction manager, he has a wife (Jessica Chastain) and a hearing-impaired daughter, and a nice piece of land in tornado country. But, of course, he can't be entirely normal, because he's played by Michael Shannon. So, after suffering nightmares that gradually turn into waking hallucinations, Curtis becomes convinced that a great disaster is coming. His behavior, and his insistence on building out the storm shelter in the backyard, suggests he is either visionary or going out of his mind. This film by Shotgun Stories
director Jeff Nichols is all eerie buildup, a series of ominous signs or concerned conversations. Because Shannon is such a formidable and uneasy presence, some of this is intriguing for a while (and Tree of Life
star Chastain contributes her strong instincts to the marital scenes), but somehow by the end the whole thing feels more portentous than insightful, like a lofty take on an M. Night Shyamalan project but without Shyamalan's canny storytelling sense. --Robert Horton