There is no scene that better captures the modern face of dread that I've seen in any film this year than a moment late in the new Jeff Nichols film "Take Shelter."
Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain star in the film as Curtis and Samantha, a married couple facing a crisis in this quiet, upsetting film. This film bothers me in the same way the Todd Haynes film "Safe" bothers me, or the way Lodge Kerrigan's work bothers me. These are films about losing your mind, and while I respect the fact that different things bother different people, this is one of those things I can't imagine without squirming. Losing my grip on my sanity, on my reason, on my ability to think? That's beyond a nightmare. That is loss of self, and Michael Shannon's work here cuts right to the heart of that fear.
It starts small for Curtis. Dreams. A feeling. A growing sensation. The film is definitely sympathetic to Curtis and his point of view, and we experience the visions and the dreams and the shifting mood with him. What makes it heartbreaking is just how brightly Jessica Chastain burns in the movie. After seeing all of her performances this year and ending with this one, I'm convinced she really is an important new presence in film. She's amazing here, this wide-open heart, the one who tames Curtis in the first place.