Curtis (Shannon) is having apocalyptic visions: storms that destroy everything while strangers try to abduct his hearing-impaired daughter. As his visions become more and more problematic, he begins to take drastic measures: buying a shipping crate to build a storm shelter in the backyard (complete with ventilation and running water) and stocking it with essential supplies. He also seeks therapeutic help, as it turns out his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia around his age. But will his marriage to Samantha (Chastain) survive his breakdown?
Nichols, who's only previous film is 2007's Shotgun Stories, proves himself to be a quietly brilliant storyteller here, layering the story (he wrote and directed) with suspense and enough character details to make the proceedings fascinatingly complex. However, at 120 minutes, the film could have used some trimming; there's perhaps one vision too many, and there's a few minor scenes that aren't completely necessary to the story. That said, the film is beautifully shot, with several truly outstanding images of storms on the horizon.
The film's greatest strength, though, is it's two leads. Shannon is nothing short of remarkable, letting his body language and facial expressions do most of the communicating. For the most part its a subdued, subtle work, but Shannon gets a chance to rage magnificently in a key scene where he confronts his neighbors about his behavior. Equally astonishing (perhaps more so) is Chastain, who gives a performance that's a complete 180 from her ditzy goofiness in The Help and her serene symbolism in The Tree of Life. So much of her performance here is internalized, yet she easily conveys everything with just a simple look. It's her best work so far in what's turned out to be her breakout year.
Take Shelter presents an interesting take on mental illness, and allows itself to be just ambiguous enough to let the terror of such a condition seep through. It's a worthy glimpse into the mind of a very troubled man. B+