14A, 120 minutes
Jessica Chastain, Michael Shannon, Katy Mixon
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a swarm of birds, not a plane in sight and…motor-oil raindrops? Confused yet? That’s nothing compared with the over-the-edge bewilderment experienced by Curtis LaForche (Shannon, scarily good), a small-town Ohioan who is plagued by frightening apocalyptic visions. Are they schizophrenic fantasies (Curtis’s family has a history of the disorder) or warnings from God? This superb character study from writer-director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) keeps the answer tantalizingly vague while it etches a trenchant portrait of America’s poverty-line-treading middle class. Curtis has plenty of earthly things to worry about: a mortgage, a mother in assisted living, a deaf six-year-old daughter. But none of that stops him from going all Noah and building a backyard storm shelter that he insists to his agitated wife (The Tree of Life’s Chastain) is essential to survive the devastating apocalypse to come. Take Shelter moves assuredly between the mundane (Shannon, Chastain and young Tova Stewart build a consistently heartrending familial rapport) and the macabre (one horrifyingly gravity-defying nightmare wouldn’t be out of place in Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel). Nichols has said that the idea for the film emerged from a free-floating anxiety that he sensed in the world at large, the feeling that everything we treasure in life could be lost in an instant. That sensation permeates this strikingly original movie—especially its enigmatic mind-fuck of a finale, which will haunt you for several lifetimes.
Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York