This shaggy dog story, from rising indie writer/director Jeff Nichols, takes itself very, very seriously . . . until it collapses with a ‘gotcha’ ending that tries to have its cake and eat it, too. Michael Shannon, who might be David Letterman’s kid brother, stars as a MidWestern drill operator who lives with his nice young wife & their little deaf girl. In a land of big sky & storm clouds that dwarf a man, he finds himself drifting into panic attacks, hallucinatory dreams & a maddening urge to build a bigger, better storm shelter. He’s convinced that the ‘big one’ is coming and he wants to be ready. Then again, having a schizophrenic mom makes him think twice about his obsessions. Is he prophetic . . . or losing it? Nichols eases us into these neuroses with a quiet, but sure technique that balances the madness of Kubrick’s THE SHINING/’80 against Terrence Mallick’s prairie vistas & laconic kinfolk. But it becomes something of a problem when the film starts to feel drawn from the imagination (and even the images) of other films rather than out of its own characters. The textures grows thin and the argument palls as Shannon gives in to his visions. Perhaps that trick ending is a disastrous acknowledgement by Nichols that ‘cures’ the essential dullness of his conception, but kills the pic. Nichols is talented, but he needs better reading material.
DOUBLE-BILL: Those who love the ending, might try Lars von Trier’s stupefying MELANCHOLIA/’11.