"Standing outside his small-town Ohio home, his wife and child busy preparing breakfast inside, Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) looks up at the ominous slate-gray sky in the first scene of Take Shelter," begins Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "The clouds open, raining down oily piss-colored droplets. It's end-of-days weather, a phenomenon that only Curtis seems to witness, and the first of many private, impressively CGI'd apocalyptic visions to come. Like Carol White, the central, unglued character of Todd Haynes's Safe (1995) who is 'allergic to the 20th century,' blue-collar worker Curtis is haunted by one of the looming terrors of the 21st: financial ruin. This unarticulated fear triggers Curtis's mental illness, and despite a few missteps, Take Shelter powerfully lays bare our national anxiety disorder — a pervasive dread that Curtis can define only as 'something that's not right.'"
"Convinced the end is coming," writes James Rocchi at the Playlist, "Curtis starts obsessing about his backyard storm shelter, while his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) grows more and more concerned about his behavior. There's a terrifying possibility that Curtis is going mad. There's an even scarier possibility that he isn't."
"Nichols shows remarkable dexterity with his scare scenes," writes Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies. "He's clearly learned lessons from Val Lewton, Wise's The Haunting, and Polanski's Repulsion, not to mention the films of Tarkovsky (some of the more intense nightmare imagery could come from the Russian filmmaker's The Mirror or The Sacrifice, and the deaf daughter here brought to mind a similar character in Stalker). However, he uses them in a way that's completely in tune with the film's Midwestern milieu (the film seems to be set in Southern Ohio). There's absolutely nothing affected about the film's perspective."
"Nichols has a good eye for actors," adds David Edelstein in New York. "I wanted even more of Shea Whigham as Curtis's hangdog co-worker and Ray McKinnon as his mysteriously insinuating older brother. And his feelers for the country's bad vibes are supernaturally keen. Shotgun Stories centered on a feud between two sets of half-brothers, and it captured the connection between fatherlessness and the impulse to wreak vengeance like no American film I've seen."
"Nichols, who with cinematographer Adam Stone renders the widescreen flatlands and wind-rustled trees in this rural setting as both pacific and threatening, pushes a little too hard at connecting Curtis's illness with the economic disquiet in the heartland," finds Bill Weber at Slant. "But Shannon's haunting work, from Curtis's mounting fears of flood and wind to his anguished public outburst at a community chowdown, keeps the audience filled with an active, dreadful fear of seeing a good man destroyed by a cursed fate."
The bottom line for Benjamin Mercer, writing in Reverse Shot: "Nichols is fast becoming one of the deftest storytellers in American independent cinema."
More from Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club, B+), Nicholas Rapold (L), Nick Schager (B+), AO Scott (New York Times), Michael Tully (Filmmaker), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 5/5) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10). Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and the Berlinale and Daniel Kasman's take from Cannes.
The Playlist's Christopher Bell interviews Nichols, Shannon and Chastain. One-on-one interviews with Nichols: Matt Singer (IFC) and Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE). Interviews with Shannon: Oliver Gettell (Los Angeles Times), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Marlow Stern (Daily Beast), Anne Thompson (video) and Jennifer Vineyard (Vulture). And Sam Adams talks with Chastain for the AV Club.