There’s a storm coming. Curtis LaForche can sense it, but more ominously he can see dark clouds gathering, hear deafening claps of thunder, feel the torrential downpours. Is he the only one? Curtis has every right to wonder. Around the same age, his mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
Curtis suspects he’s headed down the same path. He’s given sleeping pills to ward off his nightmares, in which everyone — his neighbors, his wife, even the family dog — tries to tear him to shreds. He recounts his fears to a counselor at the free clinic, but still he believes the visions are no mere delusions. Why else would he cast off his dog and part with his closest friend?
And then there’s that subterranean bunker, the storm shelter in his backyard. Curtis feels compelled to fortify it, taking out a loan on his home and investing his family’s savings in a project that becomes an obsession.
“I’m afraid something might be coming,” he stammers, struggling not to sound crazy. “Something that’s not right.”
Michael Shannon plays Curtis in “Take Shelter,” the astonishing drama from “Shotgun Stories” director Jeff Nichols.
He has gone unhinged before — as a stressed-out Gulf War veteran in “Bug” (2006) and a recovering mental patient in “Revolutionary Road” (2008), for which he earned an Oscar nomination.
He’s entitled to another for his performance here, as a paterfamilias desperate to protect his wife and daughter — but from what? Is there really a storm brewing, or has Curtis simply checked out, overwhelmed by his obligations as the man of the household?
Curtis doesn’t know, and neither do we. But his actions speak clearly.
So does Shannon’s demeanor. There’s a sensitivity underlying his madness, the wide-eyed desperation of a man racing against time to do what’s necessary. His wife (Jessica Chastain) doesn’t understand — how could she? But she doesn’t dismiss his concerns as lunatic ravings. She listens, accepts and does what she can to save her marriage.
Taken as a metaphor for America’s descent into financial ruin or even a supernatural yarn worthy of Stephen King — backed by impressive effects, true-to-life nightmare sequences and David Wingo’s haunting score — “Shelter” is moody, riveting entertainment, a brilliant encapsulation of widespread anxieties.
But most of all, this is the story of a marriage put to the ultimate test, an illustration of how trust is gained, how compromise is required, and how sometimes the best thing you can do is cast your judgments aside and listen with an open mind. It is a powerful experience not soon forgotten.
Starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Running time 1 hour 54 minutes