★ ★ ★ ★
Jeff Nichols, a University of North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus, directed this film. Though I don’t know Jeff, many of my friends and colleagues are graduates of this wonderful program, and its always a good feeling seeing someone from one of the local film schools succeed.
Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a blue collar working man in Ohio with wife, Samantha (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) and daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). He begins having strange and frightening dreams about a large storm that causes the people around him to become crazed and attack him. Having a parent who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at around the same age, he becomes concerned that he might be losing his mind as well. To cope, he begins seeing a counselor, but his behavior and decisions grow worse with each dream occurrence, ultimately leading him to become obsessed with expanding a storm shelter in their back yard. Without his wife’s blessing, he takes out a loan from the local bank and begins building his shelter from the impending storm. As the narrative progresses, his life begins to slowly unravel as his behavior becomes more and more erratic from his visions.
The film, in my opinion, expertly studies the oncoming effects of mental illness and how real the delusions and hallucinations can become, which, in turn, can cause chaos in an otherwise normal life. The subtle direction and naturalistic cinematography, along with an eery score, give the viewer an impending sense of doom and nicely elucidate the paranoia and fear of the primary character. Shannon, as Curtis, gives an amazingly well-conceived performance in the leading role, and Chastain plays a grounded foil to his madness.
This is independent filmmaking done right. Even with a fraction of the budget of many of the major films this year, this film delivers an intriguing story, great performances and a high quality of production value. I’ll be interested in seeing what’s next for Nichols as a writer/director, and will likely soon rent his debut film, Shotgun Stories.