A festival favourite from its Sundance debut to its arrival at TIFF, where it duly emerged as an awards season front-runner, Take Shelter is the extraordinary sophomore effort from Jeff Nichols, director of 2007’s Shotgun Stories. As in his acclaimed debut, Nichols teams with indie stalwart Michael Shannon, who gives one of the year’s standout performances as a portrait of paternal paranoia.
Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, a rural Ohio everyman suddenly wracked by tempestuous dreams of his family’s annihilation. The dreams themselves are profoundly disturbing (Nichols conveys dread as deftly as any seasoned genre director), but Curtis’ maternal history of schizophrenia renders their potential implications doubly ominous, suggesting they may be less prophetic than an early manifestation of a descent into madness.
Aware that he may be predisposed to delusion but unable to confide in his wife (Jessica Chastain), his visions are nonetheless so vivid and violent that he’s compelled to act. Unbeknownst to her, he invests in costly renovations to a derelict backyard storm cellar, despite the impending expense of surgery to restore their daughter’s hearing. That his frighteningly realised hallucinations also begin to tax his relations with his co-workers and supervisor adds to the film’s charged, foreboding air.
Purely on the level of psycho-familial drama, the terrific performances by Shannon and Chastain amply justify the price of admission. But it’s Nichols’ powerful allegory for contemporary economic and political uncertainty—punctuated by awesome evocations of natural fury—that girds Take Shelter with a timely, haunting resonance.