Curtis fears the fact that he may not be able to provide for his family. He fears the apocalyptic nightmares he begins having at night, the similar hallucinations he has during the day, and the impending storm that seems to be the central theme of everything he envisions.
He fears the fact that, like his mother before him, he may be in the stages of developing schizophrenia. And even more so, he fears that he’ll abandon his family because of this, just as his mother did to him.
Curtis is man whose life is overpowered by fear, and “Take Shelter” is a haunting, thought-provoking, and unnerving allegorical masterpiece on our own anxiety in a world that seems relentlessly hell-bent on scaring us to death. This is what dread feels like.
Curtis is a captivating set of eyes, giving us a bone-chilling perception of the film’s disturbingly tangible themes. As this character, Michael Shannon gives not only the performance of his career, but also the best of this year by generous bounds.
Through subtlety that leads to a shocking scene of outburst and a brilliantly designed climax that filled me with so much unease it became uncomfortable, Shannon is brilliant throughout—perfectly complimented by Jessica Chastain as Curtis’s wife Samantha.
In her fourth film of a phenomenal breakout year, this is Chastain’s best performance. She’s a wife and mother who begins the film in what seems like a standard American family, until normalcy is sacrificed as Curtis’s downfall begins.
And what is to be said about Curtis’s descent into what feels like lunacy? He becomes obsessed with building a storm shelter in his backyard, convinced his visions will one day prove true. He banishes his dog to outdoors after he is bitten in a dream, and when his friends and family begin appearing sinisterly in his nightmares, he fears them and shuns them as well.
What resonates with “Take Shelter” is the entire atmosphere it presents—a world very much like our own with alarming elements presented in a rather unique way. Is it supernatural? Is it psychological?
For certain, Curtis’s visions of the “storm” offer a metaphorical interpretation of everything we currently fear in this country—illness, war, economy, others and even ourselves. It holds a mirror up to us, and we see our own dread matching our stares, eyes piercing and cold. Yet, with “Take Shelter,” it’s impossible to look away.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.