by Mark Dispenza
That dreaded feeling you have that the world is teetering on the verge of socio-economic disaster is given cinematic form in Take Shelter, in which writer/director Jeff Nichols poses the question, "are you just letting irrational fear rule your mind, or do you really have something to worry about?" And the answer is, to quote an old saying, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't someone out to get you.
Curtis, a working man and father played by Michael Shannon, finds his sleep disturbed by apocalyptic visions of the near future. The persistence of the visions are powerful enough that he feels he must act on them. He begins distancing himself from everyone except his young deaf daughter, whom he feels he must protect, and he starts to build a costly and elaborate underground shelter.
His wife, wonderfully played by Jessica Chastain, grows more and more worried, not only because they cannot afford the cost of the shelter and he is placing his job at risk, but because Curtis may be losing his mind. He is now the same age as his mother when she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and committed to an institution, where she remains today.
Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain
At first Curtis tries to rein in his own excesses, and becomes unsure of himself to some degree, although not enough to put a stop to his apocalyptic preparations. He takes sleeping pills to get through the night, but that only makes the visions bleed into daylight reality, and Curtis begins to have waking hallucinations.
This is a very well-made film, although frankly I found the story to be predictable and did not feel as caught up in the suspense some of my fellow audience members seemed to feel. The pace of the story is very good and the visuals are masterful. Take Shelter did very well among both critics and audience members at Cannes and Toronto, and two weeks ago it took home Best Feature at Zurich.
I have little doubt that the film will do well as it goes into wider release this month. This is a masterful second feature from a young director who is hitting it out of the ballpark again, with the first time being the critically-acclaimed Shotgun Stories in 2007, which also starred Shannon. The depth of character and realistic performances from actors Shannon and Chastain will keep you riveted to the screen.