Curtis (Shannon) lives in small-town America with his wife Samantha (Chastain) and their young daughter Hannah (Stewart). He has a good job in a quarry, which provides insurance so Hannah can get an operation to restore her hearing. But Curtis begins to suspect that his mind is slipping, rather like his schizophrenic mother (Baker). As his nightmares become increasingly horrific and vivid, he starts to become paranoid about a coming storm. And no one understands why he insists on building an underground shelter next to the house.
Nichols puts us into Curtis' deteriorating perspective from the opening shot, as we experience his dreams with eerie clarity. Everything about the film feels foreboding, from menacing storm-clouds to swirling flocks of circling birds.
Most intriguingly, this internalised style of filmmaking means that we actually understand Curtis' actions even though they're completely baffling to everyone around him, most notably Samantha, a work colleague (Whigham) and his boss (Longstreet). And each scene is a bundle of suggestions about what might happen next.
Shannon's performance matches this strikingly introspective approach, as he underplays the role with delicate, twitchy perfection. Not only can we see Curtis losing his grip on reality, but we can see that he suspects what's happening to him. So the tension to fix it is almost unbearable, especially as reflected in Chastain's expressive eyes. She sees something is wrong, but hasn't spotted his growing obsession. As a result, the film becomes increasingly involving. And deeply unsettling.
Along the way, Nichols continually throws in terrifying moments, usually in Curtis' nightmares, while the understated approach adds real dramatic power to the quiet dramatic scenes. As things escalate, the film is both viscerally scary and emotionally wrenching, with the added resonance of family, community and financial pressures. And the clever screenplay refuses to go where we expect, anchoring itself in tough, raw hope rather than pointless movie melodrama. And without even a whiff of sentimentality, the final scenes are remarkably moving.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 10th November 2011
Box Office USA: $1.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $272.5 thousand
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Hydraulx, REI Capital, Grove Hill Productions, Strange Matter Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 139 Rotten: 12
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Jeff Nichols
Producer: Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin
Screenwriter: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon as Curtis, Jessica Chastain as Samantha, Katy Mixon as Nat, Shea Whigham as Dewart, Ray McKinnon as Kyle, Tova Stewart as Hannah, Natasha Randall as Cammie, Ron Kennard as Russell, Scott Knisley as Lewis, Robert Longstreet as Jim, Heather Caldwell as Special Ed Teacher, Sheila Hullihen as Woman in Road
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