Michael Shannon is a blue-collar worker in Ohio who begins having very vivid, apocalyptic nightmares. They are so real that when a dog bites him in a dream, his arm hurts for days. His mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1986 and has spent the rest of her life in an institution. Naturally, he fears he is going crazy, but he is so obsessed with his visions that thoughts of survival take over his life. He isn’t good at telling his fears to his lovely wife, Jessica Chastain, but he begins spending money they can’t afford to add to the tornado shelter in their back yard. He has a hearing-impaired daughter who needs a cochlear implant so they desperately need their excellent health care benefits, but his erratic behavior leads to him being fired. And then the huge storm hits … or does it?
We have assumed he’s going nuts, but there’s that element of doubt. And I can’t reveal the ending, except to say that I found it puzzling, to say the least. Anyway, it’s not about that, but rather an excellent portrait of a family trying to cope with many things, mental illness being the rotten cherry on top. The writing and directing and acting are all excellent, as you would expect with those two headliners. The film is a great example of how the judicious use of quality special effects can enhance a smallish movie like this, and be much more effective than the blockbusters where every shot is SFX. The storms and the flights of starlings are awesome.