Take Shelter

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By Adam Frazier

In small-town Ohio, Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”) has apocalyptic nightmares but keeps them from his wife Sam (Jessica Chastain, “Tree of Life”) and their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart).

In these visions, Curtis witnesses a storm on the horizon, a peculiar storm in which droplets of black rain (like motor oil) fall from the sky. Curtis becomes obsessed with building a storm shelter in his backyard.

As his dreams and erratic behavior intensify, his relationship with his family is pushed to the brink, and Curtis now questions if he should shelter his family from the storm or from himself.

Michael Shannon gives a soul-stirring performance, reminiscent of his work as a schizophrenic in Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road,” which earned him a Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination. In “Take Shelter,” Curtis’s mother Sarah (Kathy Baker) was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her early thirties, which leaves Curtis wondering if these visions are the first sign that he may also have a mental disorder.

It’s this brilliant performance combined with director Jeff Nichols’ subtle storytelling that creates a perfect combination of drama, terror, and paranoia-infused dread. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jessica Chastain’s work as Sam, the strung-out wife of a trouble man. Chastain has had a hell of a year: from Terrence Mallick’s “Tree of life” to Tate Taylor’s adaptation of “The Help,” it’s hard to say how many acting nominations she’ll receive this year for her stellar work.

“Take Shelter” is an astounding film featuring performances that are some of the best I’ve seen this year. Nichols has created a fractured, subtle film that raises questions about the fragility of the human psyche and gladly ushers the audience into a descent of dreadful madness.