An oncoming storm plagues the visions of a young husband and father in Jeff Nichols' sophomore effort, "Take Shelter," a keen, deeply psychological portrait of a man either at wit's end or God's beckoning.
Michael Shannon plays said man, Curtis LaForche, a construction worker caring solely for his wife (Jessica Chastain) and their hearing-impaired daughter (Tova Stewart) in rural Ohio. Curtis begins having recurring dreams of increasing intensity in which he is helpless to protect his family from nature's wrath, most frequently the threat of a violently thunderous, tornadic storm.
Curtis slowly recognizes his surreal, illogical fear and seeks help (his mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was just ten), yet he can't resist the urge to take out an expensive loan to stock and expand upon the old backyard storm shelter, which occupies most of his time.
Shannon, no stranger to playing fragile, psychologically-strained characters like in Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road," is in tremendous form here, bringing surprising vulnerability and empathy to his blue-collar family man. We don't root for Curtis' decent into madness, but rather wish him to healthiness, like a loved one of our own.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols (whose 2007 debut, "Shotgun Stories", starred Michael Shannon as well) says that he wrote "Take Shelter" while dealing with fits of anxiety himself. Using the storm shelter and its accompanying visions of nature's wrath, he finds a fitting metaphor for not only the threat of change and uncertainty (the storm itself), but the place of solitude and then salvation (the shelter).
And in this way, the film is not only about the question of literal sanity, but the uneasy weight of dependability. In this way, the film becomes akin to the parental anxiety of responsibility as seen in David Lynch's "Eraserhead".
But even at its most base, most instinctual level of genre, "Take Shelter" represents, along with Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," a new wave of existential horror far more frightening for its acute, fragile depiction of the human psyche than any demonic, house-possession folly that the studios can drum up these days. [B+]
Sunday, October 30, 2011
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