Take Shelter

The indie drama is scheduled to open Friday at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24. Strangely, Curtis (Michael Shannon, TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”), a blue-collar worker in a small town in Ohio, is the only one who notices how different the drops are. That’s because it’s just a dream. Trouble is, his dreams have seeped over into his waking moments, with troubling nightmares ballooning into apocalyptic visions of a storm so strong, “tempest” is a better word for it: one gray cloud cast in a solid shade of sinister, with multiple funnels dropping out of it like spiders from webs newly plucked.

On the job or at home, Curtis witnesses birds swooping in mesmerizing but unnatural patterns, and even falling from the sky as if they were balls of hail, complete with sickening thud. And so, like “Field of Dreams” without the predetermined tear-jerking end, he literally risks house and home to finance one mother of a tornado shelter: If he builds it, it will come. And only his family will be safe.

As he tells his doctor, “It’s not a dream, it’s a feeling.”

Any lifelong Oklahoman can empathize, having known the torturous, nerve-wracked waiting game that exists when our television meteorologists switch into doomsday mode, and we huddle with loved ones in that middle closet, not knowing whether the roof over our heads will be there 20 minutes later. If only you can make it that long without incident, everything will be fine.

That’s what “Take Shelter” feels like, but for two hours. In his sophomore effort, writer/director Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”) turns “Twister” into a thinking man’s thriller. It’s a slow burn, but a profoundly tense one, leaving the audience to wonder if Curtis is judiciously cautious or just crazy.

Luckily, no one does potentially insane better than Shannon, turning in another superb performance to stand aside his breakout turns in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and “Revolutionary Road,” for which he deservedly won an Oscar nomination. Matching his excellence as his fragile wife is Jessica Chastain, capping an already great year of work in “The Debt,” “The Help” and “The Tree of Life.”

Naturally, the rural Ohio sky is a supporting cast member in itself, with Nichols depicting the weather as both beauty and beast. Only one makes it to the final shot.

Read Rod Lott’s exclusive interview with Michael Shannon at his Rod & Reel film blog!

Rod Lott

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