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Take Shelter

Updated on January 8, 2013

There's a storm coming, and not one of you is prepared for it.

If you're in the mood to guzzle caffeine and throw popcorn down your throat, this is not the movie for you. Take Shelter (2011) moves at a very slow, deliberate pace. The power of the movie comes partly from that pace, along with the very skilled acting that makes it work. I'll write this review without spoilers.

Michael Shannon plays Curtis LaForche. Curtis' mom began suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in her mid-30s. Curtis is now in his mid-30s, and he's starting to have intense, paranoid dreams where someone or something—in one dream, his own dog—is coming after him. He starts to see the sky looming low with threatening, billowing dark clouds. As the character says, these aren’t just dreams; this is a feeling that follows him around when he's awake. The dread and paranoia start to tear apart his life in real, tangible ways. Shannon does a fantastic job playing someone who is afraid he's losing his mind and doesn't know what to do about it.

Jessica Chastain plays Curtis' wife, and Chastain blows this part out of the water. (She kicks ass in Zero Dark Thirty, too, by the way.) Just as Shannon plays insanity in full-flesh realism, Chastain reflects sanity and reality back at him like she's holding up a mirror. Her reactions as she fears for her husband, and fears for how his unraveling will impact the life of their deaf young daughter, make you feel the desperate heartbeats of her character—a character scrambling to batten down everything her family holds dear before the storm comes and rips it away. As the story feels like it is slipping into the paranormal, she hammers you in the gut with that which is real and imminent.

I won't give away anything about the ending, but I will say there are two ways to interpret it. Well, there are probably more than two, but you'll know what I mean when you see it. The movie is so gripping—slowly working its tail around you until it swallows you in its boa constrictor mouth—by the end, even the viewer starts to question whether he or she is witnessing reality or hallucination.

Full props to writer and director Jeff Nichols. And props to supporting actor Shea Whigham, who also plays to the pace extremely well. The way these scenes unfurl, you feel the most visceral tension at the subtlest raising of a hair. I think there is really something to see here.

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