Film review | Take Shelter – Storm clouds gather for Michael Shannon – but are they inside his head?

A film for troubled times, Take Shelter taps into current anxieties about economic meltdown and climate change disaster with its scarily apt depiction of a man driven to the edge by apocalyptic fears.

Michael Shannon plays blue-collar family man Curtis LaForche. A crew chief for a sand-mining company, he is on the lower rungs of the middle-class – but the tiniest slip could plunge him and his loved ones into poverty. In his shoes, who wouldn’t be uneasy? But Curtis’s concerns are even more acute: by night and by day, he is assailed by a gathering storm of nightmares and hallucinations. Convinced that a huge tornado is about to strike his small Ohio town, he throws all his energy and all his money into enlarging the storm shelter in his back yard – perversely driven to complete the project despite the strains it inflicts on his marriage and on his family’s financial security. Is he mad or prescient? Has he inherited his mother’s schizophrenia or is he somehow genuinely attuned to an impending cataclysm? Or both?

Gripping and unsettling in equal measure, Take Shelter is a film that gets under your skin. Part family drama, part psychological study, part horror, part thriller, writer-director Jeff Nichols’s film is held together by its excellent cast. Shannon, previously Oscar-nominated for his supporting role as another troubled soul in Revolutionary Road, holds our sympathy even as Curtis’s behaviour becomes more and more unhinged, and he’s ably backed by Jessica Chastain as his caring wife and Shea Whigham as his concerned best friend. Curtis is clearly unstable, yet in an age when more and more people are sensing the precariousness of modern life, it’s all too easy to identify with his flailing efforts to protect his family from the coming storm.

On general release from Friday 25th November.

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