Writer-director Ron Krauss’s Gimme Shelter is wretched long before its odious ulterior motives come to light. It begins by introducing us to Apple (Vanessa Hudgens), a poor 17-year-old who runs away from her abusive, drug-addled mother, June (Rosario Dawson). Apple is a grimy embodiment of the underprivileged stereotype. Played with unceasing, hard-to-watch histrionics by the ill-equipped Hudgens, the teen has a greasy mop of short-cropped hair, the skulking gait of a rhino in Doc Martens, and, like her mother, perpetual black eyes, as if she wakes every morning to dual blows to the face.
After sneaking into the high-class home of her estranged father, Tom (Brendan Fraser), who provides food and lodging, Apple consumes every forkful of salad and gulp of juice with boorish vigor, and Hudgens overplays each chew and swallow with sophomoric abandon. Like a dumpster-diving Lisbeth Salander, she’s an affected caricature of Halloween-costume proportions, and when it comes time to reveal that she’s pregnant, her clichéd barbarism is used as the impetus for the revelation. Waking up in Tom’s mansion, Apple starts making a bacon-and-pasta omelette, while downing a raw egg, tripping the smoke alarm, and getting sick in the process. Thanks to female intuition, Tom’s disapproving wife, Joanna (Stephanie Szostak), knows what’s up, but what the scene mostly illustrates is how Krauss hurls everything at the wall, formally screaming that the unschooled lower class is defined by sloppiness.
This volume-spiked narrative approach continues through every phase of Apple’s journey, from the fleeing of an abortion appointment arranged by Tom and Joanna to the crashing of a stolen car that naturally lands her in the hospital. Hunted by her lecherous mother, who has mud-brown teeth and recalls Cruella DeVil, Miss Hannigan, and Mary from Precious, Apple reluctantly takes solace in the offerings of Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones), the hospital chaplain who hands her a Bible and directs her to a Christian-focused shelter for pregnant young women (there’s no acknowledgment of what the Bible has to say about the whole child-out-of-wedlock thing).
Gimme Shelter is touted as being based on a true story; however, it isn’t Apple’s story. The film is based on the accomplishments of Several Sources Shelters founder Kathy DiFiore, who’s portrayed by Ann Dowd, and whose entrance is preceded by Father McCarthy showing Apple mounted photos of Kathy with Mother Teresa and Ronald Reagan—two blessed saints of our time, it would seem. As Apple slowly cleans up, curbs the angst, and—graciously, I guess—opts out of a life funded by Tom, an anomalously noble Wall Street broker, it’s hard to pinpoint this shrill movie’s message. Ultimately, it feels like little more than some backhanded biopic—a hypocritical, Bible-thumping bit of pro-life propaganda, which covertly promotes Kathy and her shelter, and uses the misery of a faux, teenage construct as its conduit.