In 'Take Shelter,' a young father (Michael Shannon) wrestles with paranoia – or is it?
Sony Pictures Classics/AP
Take Shelter," about a small-town Ohio family man racked by ominous nightmares, begins frighteningly and gets progressively more so. What starts out as a kind of apocalyptic horror fantasy gradually morphs into a more psychological realm – which makes the horror even more unsettling. The bogeyman in this film is inside, not outside.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) would seem to have it all: a good job as the crew manager for a drilling company; a beautiful, adoring wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain); and a 6-year-old daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who, though severely hearing-impaired, is seemingly happy and well adjusted.
His best buddy and crew mate Dewart (Shea Whigham) ribs Curtis about just how good he has it, and Curtis, although he laughs it off, knows he's right.
But Curtis can't dispel the nightmares that increasingly crowd in on him. He imagines storm clouds massing in the sky, tornadoes bearing down on his family, huge flocks of blackbirds. Even in his waking moments, on the job, he is hit by sudden frightful visions. Acting obsessively on his fears, and to everyone's befuddlement, he constructs a much-expanded storm shelter in his backyard by taking out a risky home loan and illegally borrowing company equipment.
This is especially heart-wrenching because Curtis, who is only trying to protect his family, is an inarticulate man who can't really fathom what is happening to him. He has an abiding suspicion that he has inherited his mother's schizophrenia. In one of the film's most moving sequences, where he visits her in the assisted-living facility where she has been for decades, he tries to find out from her if the onset of her condition matches his own. Kathy Baker, as the mother, is only in this one scene, but it's so beautifully played that it resonates throughout the rest of the film like a soft, plaintive chord.