Film Review: “Take Shelter” by Jeff Nichols

The phrase “psychological thriller” has long been overused, particularly in reference to film. Somewhere down the line, “psychological” became a synonym for “good” and/or “interesting.” “Take Shelter,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”), is a true psychological thriller (though “good” and “interesting” still apply here as well). The story’s conflicts and thrills arise almost entirely from the protagonist’s psyche, and the film is all the more fascinating for it.

Ohio construction worker Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) has been having visions of an apocalyptic storm, complete with imagery so vivid that reality and the nightmarish world of Curtis’s visions are often indistinguishable. As written by Nichols and portrayed by Shannon, viewers are granted seamless access to Curtis’s mind””the objective and subjective are rarely made clear.

With schizophrenia in his family history, Curtis understandably questions his mental health, despite strong convictions that his visions are actually premonitions. As you may expect, this causes a strain between Curtis and his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain). Fortunately for viewers, the characters in “Take Shelter” are intelligent enough to discuss their feelings and seek help for their troubles.

As portrayed by Shannon and Chastain, Curtis and Samantha feel organic and relatable throughout the entire film. Shannon is the main attraction here, giving a lead performance that’s as fascinating as it is frightening. Chastain, who I’ve been raving about since her breathtaking performance in “The Tree of Life,” is wonderful as always.

“Take Shelter” takes its time reaching the finish line, but when it gets there the ending is so powerful (and likely controversial) that the slow-burn approach that Nichols employs is more than validated.

Grade: A-