“Gimme Shelter” gives no satisfaction

Kyle Garrett, Staff Writer

“Gimme Shelter,” written and directed by Ron Krauss (“Rave,” “Amexica”), is so well-meaning that to give it an honest review is almost mean.

It is based on the story of Kathy DeFiore and the Several Sources Shelters, which provide shelter, education and support to pregnant teenagers who wish to keep their babies, as well as sick, homeless or elderly women.

The film aims to be the big inspirational drama of 2014. Instead, it hits almost every wrong note it possibly could, resolving into a pile of clichéd, dull, melodramatic emotional manipulation.

It would be dishonest to call the manipulation thematically empty. Under the saccharine and fake heart-wrenching this film pushes a pro-life, conservative Christian agenda.

At the very start of the film, it almost seems to have promise. The first thing we see after panning through dirty, hopeless New York City streets is Vanessa Hudgens as Apple, cutting her hair in a crowded bathroom. She whispers to herself the mantra that followed us through the establishing shot and will continue to crop up as she makes a mad dash past her ghoulishly abusive addict of a mother (Rosario Dawson) and into the street.

Because this is propaganda for the Christian right, the secular world is full of nothing but evil and depravity. Everywhere she turns in her quest to reunite with her rich father (Brendan Fraser), she finds thugs, social services trying to throw her back in the pit, shelters slamming doors in her face, pimps scheming against her and police who attack her for no reason.

In case it wasn’t laid on thick enough, when she finally arrives at her father’s New Jersey mansion he discovers she’s pregnant and immediately sends her off to an abortion clinic. She takes one look at the ultrasound photos and runs for it.

She ends up in the hospital where a chaplain (James Earl Jones) preaches at her and directs her to the shelter run by Kathy (Ann Dowd), positively a saint compared to every other character in the film. Apple can finally be safe and develop a sisterly bond with the requisite rainbow cast of fellow pregnant teenagers, though she is still hounded by her mother, that spectre of motherhood-with-rights, who randomly shows up to attack her with a straight razor.

Hudgens was clearly desperate to prove she can be a real actress, and despite everything else wrong with the movie, she manages it, putting more commitment into the production than anyone else. She transforms both physically and mentally into the survivor of a lifetime’s abuse, regarding the world with the fear and mistrust of a beaten and starved dog. It is a performance wasted on this film.

The script lets its actors down even when they put in real effort, circling round in endless dull clichés and reducing most of the dialogue to speeches that border on sermons and force everyone involved to chew the scenery – as the adage goes, you can write this crap, but you can’t say it.

The cinematography is uninspired after its first shots, replacing any inventiveness or technical skill with a half-handed attempt at authenticity via handheld cameras. Donate the cost of admission for this tripe to a women’s charity instead.

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