Here is another film that failed to achieve the glory it deserves. Perhaps mainstream critics and audiences did not know how to place the film. Is this a mental illness drama, or a psychological horror film? Or is it an environmental apocalyptic fable (at one point the protagonist says, “There’s a storm coming, and you don’t have any idea?” And, dead birds drop from the sky, among other weird happenings!)?
The film is all this and wildly riveting. But, it is not a thriller for the sake of it. There’s a method behind the madness, and all this is elevated by Michael Shannon’s masterful central performance. Shannon brings level of authenticity beyond the requirement of a genre plot. And, no, this is not a genre film.
Curtis is a construction worker in rural Ohio, who has an equally hardworking and understanding wife, Samantha, and a hearing-impaired young daughter, Hannah. They may not be rich, but they are okay, and Curtis cherishes his life.
For a few days now, he has started to have these apocalyptic dreams where his dog attacks him, a winds blows his house, and so on, and these dreams are so real that he can still feel its effects after he had awaken. Curtis is rattled. He is more worried about the safety of his family than himself. He wonders if he is going mad. There is a possibility, because his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was of his age. He visits a doctor. But, he finds it hard to believe that these dreams are just his imagination. What if he was wrong? What if there is a message behind these dreams?
Curtis takes a loan and upgrades the storm shelter in the yard. The area is prone to storms, therefore, the storm shelter exists. Samantha is besides herself at this, because they need the money for their daughter’s treatment, and they want a vacation at the beach. Finally, Curtis confides in his wife and agrees to seek medical help.
But, things are not simple as it seems. A storm does come. And a lot of other things happen. But, as the film ends, you realise all the things you have witnessed was just the beginning. The real storm is yet to come. At this moment, when the screen fades out, all you can say is, “Ok!” just like Samantha does.
The film doesn’t explain itself. There is no need to. It’s a character study of fear, fear of losing one’s family, fear of losing one’s sanity, fear of losing everything that one holds dear. And, Shannon makes you confront this fear firsthand, without the troupe of the classic horror genre.
One word about Jessica Chastain as Samantha. This was truly Chastain’s year, in the sense that she debuts this year and how, appearing in more than four films in a single year, and with an Academy award nomination to boot, and all the films are milestones in their own right, and all the roles she played were as different as they could be. She was Brad Pitt’s wife, embodying grace in Terrance Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’, she was a white trash blonde with a heart of gold in ‘The Help’ for which she was nominated for an Oscar, and she was the central character’s wife in Ralph Fiennes’ ‘Coriolanus.’
The film is directed by Jeff Nichols. This is his second film after ‘Shotgun Stories.’