Take Shelter is a daft, exemplary example of incertitude and portentousness, a gradually haunting and immersive experience.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols follows up his applauded Shotgun Stories with a vivid independent drama that sharply connects from apprehension, communication and obsession. In particular of the what is happening to a Midwest construction foreman Curtis, expressed with a unique blend of force and disintegration by Michael Shannon (The Runaways, Revolutionary Road) which commands attention throughout.
Curtis is planning to get cochlear implants for his quiet, beseeching 6-year-old daughter Hannah (a sweet Tova Stewart). It's not ease of course to get through the insurance red tape with a loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) who helps out by selling her homemade crafts at a flea market. At the same time, they are getting accustomed to using sign language.
A sense of dread unexpectedly develops through premonitions plague Curtis enough to believe in an inchoate catastrophe for him and his family. Since Mother Nature could very well be threatening, the working-class husband and father is set on building a storm refuge in the backyard.
Domestic strife is felt in not opening up to Samantha about the terrible suspicions engulfing him and efforts with a health counselor (Lisa Gay Hamilton) isn't helpful, either. Curtis's anguish becomes more acute in learning that his mother (a reliable Kathy Baker) was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 10 (and he's at her age now).
The unnerving way Nichols presents each frame is anything but a sophomore jinx in the personification what makes for a dark, despondent outlook as a climate appears to change. So, the persuasion whether from raindrops to shovels and valves and a dog is a testament to how the editing, sound, and camerawork are in synchronicity to ensure character and viewer discomfort.
It isn't all Shannon who is sensational at making Curtis's internalization something to be reckoned with - as Stewart and, notably, a busy Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help) as a deeply worried and upset wife offer more to the foreboding than expected. There are brief, but decent turns from Shea Whigham and Ray McKinnon as a coworker and odd older brother, too.
Like its title, Take Shelter is full of meaning and ambivalence, bookended by an eminent nightmarishness. It's uncanny in navigating a fine, mesmerizing line between faith and instability as Shannon's tightly controlled portrait of an isolated, intensely weathered soul out to protect his family.