Indie Roundup: ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’

Take Shelter,” which opens in select cities this week, is a slow burn of a psychological drama but it builds to an explosive, if ambiguous, climax. Curtis is a family man with a steady blue-collar job. While knocking back beers after work, one of his friends tells him he has a “good life.” And, indeed, by all outward appearances, he does seem to have a good middle-class life: a house, beautiful wife, Samantha, and young daughter who is deaf.

Yet Curtis is plagued by nightmares of apocalyptic storms and unseen intruders that unnerves him so much, it starts to subconsciously unravel that good life. He soon begins making one bad decision after another that makes perfect sense according to the logic of his nightly visions but seem completely irrational to those around him. One of those decisions is to take out a home loan to expand his house’s dank tornado shelter, though his banker tells him it is a bad idea.

See stills from ‘Take Shelter’ >>

Michael Shannon’s performance as Curtis is as restrained as it is mesmerizing. And the scene where his simmering rage and frustration boils over during a community fish fry is as electrifying as anything I’ve seen this year. Jessica Chastain, who, after starring in “Tree of Life” and “The Help,” is having a very good year, is equally powerful has Curtis’s bewildered, heartbroken wife.

It’s hard not to see this film as a deft exploration of anxieties of the downwardly mobile middle class in these ugly recessionary times. Curtis’s terrifying delusions are mirrored by more prosaic fears, like keeping a job, making ends meet, and dealing with health insurers. Of course, in an age fraught with an impending economic implosion in Europe and gridlock in Washington, the idea of hiding out in an underground bunker does not seem like an entirely irrational thing to do.

See stills from ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’ >>

Also in theaters is “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.” We’ve all seen it before: a group of well-scrubbed, attractive college students with thoughts of having a romantic getaway in the woods only to get killed in a variety of gory ways by a couple of psychotic rednecks. Think “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Wrong Turn.” “Tucker & Dale” mixes this tired horror trope with a healthy dose of “The Three Stooges.” Tucker and Dale are a couple of well-meaning, if utterly oblivious, buddies who bought the vacation home of their dreams — a woodland shack that looks exactly like the cursed cabin in the “Evil Dead” movies. A chain of improbably hilarious accidents make a bunch of annoying college preps think that the bumbling duo are actually hillbilly killers. Sure, the conceit wears a touch thin near the end, but any movie with a comedy set piece involving a wood chipper can’t be all bad.

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