I'd been intrigued by the trailer for "Take Shelter" for some time; here's a movie that could be about the end of the world, or that could be about a man slowly going mad. Either plot would be enough to intrigue me... and when the main character's being played by Michael Shannon, a veteran of Herzog and Scorsese films, I only get more intrigued.
"Take Shelter" has some haunting visuals, and an ending I'll never forget, but it's Michael Shannon, who's pretty much in every scene in the movie, who has to sell the movie. It succeeds or fails based on his ability to pull off a happy loving father and husband AND a man descending into madness. He does an incredible job. Everyone else's performance improves for being in proximity to him.
The movie begins with the first of several haunting, brooding visions of an impending apocalypse, and that sets the tone for the whole film. More visions and dreams come now and then as the movie progresses, but it's the slow build of Shannon's reaction and growing obsession with what these visions could mean that really sells the slowly building tension in the movie. When it all finally comes to a head at the movie's climax... it was more harrowing than most big budget disaster movies without ANY of the big budget destruction scenes. "Take Shelter" is a pretty low-budget movie; there ARE special effects in the movie, but they're pretty subtle and few and far between. And done quite well. But it's Michael Shannon who really makes you nervous.