Film Review: ‘Gimme Shelter’

Film Review: 'Gimme Shelter'

A pregnant teen finds salvation in this well-acted but dogmatic pro-life message movie.

In director Ronald Krauss’ “Gimme Shelter,” a pregnant 16-year-old flees her down-and-out abusive mother and rich, abortion-pushing father to find salvation in a home for unwed mothers. Whenever the film concentrates on the teen’s interactions with the various authority figures who successively betray her, it remains relatively compelling, thanks largely to Vanessa Hudgens’ standout perf. But once she is rescued by a priest and taken to a shelter, the film is hamstrung by its fidelity to real-life inspirational models. Delivered by a name cast (Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, James Earl Jones), the pic’s pointedly pro-life message should attract like-minded auds.

After furiously shearing off her long hair and escaping the clawing embrace of her drugged-out mother (Rosario Dawson, extremely convincing), Apple (Hudgens) makes her way to the palatial New Jersey digs of the father she never met, thrown to the ground twice en route — once by an irate cabbie, once by the cops.  Once there, she encounters her wary Wall Streeter dad (Brendan Fraser), not quite sure what to do with his defiant daughter, and his wife (Stephanie Szostak), appalled by the intrusion of this uncouth interloper into their immaculate, well-ordered existence. Upon discovering that she’s pregnant (“Where is the father, in jail?” she sweetly inquires), Apple is driven to an abortion clinic from which she then escapes, clutching a sonogram likeness of her unborn child.

Homeless and wandering the streets (where she narrowly evades the snares of a thuggish pimp by stealing and crashing his car), she is eventually saved by a clerical James Earl Jones and taken to a shelter. There her initial distrust and hostility dissolve under the care of Kathy (Ann Dowd), the stern-but-caring founder of the shelter (a role patterned after pro-lifer Kathy DiFiore, who appears in the pic’s end credits), and the female bonding she experiences with other teenage members of the baby-spawning community.

An air of innocuous innocence blankets the shelter; the girls’ transgressions take the form of flashlight-lit hunts among racks of donated clothing and stacks of official files. The one cynical misfit in the bunch (Emily Meade) leaves in a huff. Babies rain down on beaming girls like benedictions, though the presence of real teen inhabitants of a DiFiore home keeps the film somewhat grounded.

Except for Dawson, who serially pops up as a frightening example of unnatural, un-Christian motherhood-with-rights, Krauss never completely demonizes the secular villains of his piece, portrayed more as victims of circumstance than as inherently evil. Fraser’s secular rationality initially reads as coldness, but he and his family miraculously become converted to loving acceptance (the sudden transformation reading almost like parody), assuring Apple of a caring, affluent environment (including a house of her own right next to Fraser’s mansion) upon her departure from the shelter.

Alain Marcoen’s lensing and Olafur Arnalds’ music tend toward the conventionally sentimental, while enabling the film’s conservative ethos of a Menacing Outside World vs. a Comforting World Within.

Film Review: 'Gimme Shelter'

Reviewed at Magno Review, New York, Dec. 18, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 101 MIN.


A Lionsgate release of a Day 28 Films production. Produced by Ronald Krauss, Jeff Rice. Executive producers, Paul Hellerman, Scott Steindorff. Co-producers, Joshua Amir, Dylan Russell.


Directed, written by Ronald Krauss. Camera (color, widescreen, Super 16mm), Alain Marcoen; editors, Mark Sult, Marie-Helene Dozo; music, Onafur Arnalds; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, William Ladd Skinner; costume designer, Ciera Wells; sound, Damian Carnelos, Phil Rosarti, Bill Donnelly; supervising sound editor, David A. Whittaker; casting, Mary Vernieu, J.C. Cantu.


Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, Stephanie Szostak, James Earl Jones, Ann Dowd, Emily Meade.

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  1. Gerard says:

    Ann is correct. It is a story of a woman, her organization and a girl who is helped. No political agenda here but Heaven (probably offended someone) forbid Variety does not put in a “like minded auds dig” about the pro-life community as if that is the only reason the movie was made. Kathy DiFiore and her organization are very real and she helps many young girls. Good movie.

  2. Eric Myers says:

    Respectfully disagree. The film is not ultimately about pregnancy, or the Christian right, or the abortion debate. It’s about a young girl’s struggle to find her place in a chaotic and turbulent world. Superb performances – particularly by Hudgens – hold the film up. It’s compassionate without being sappy, inspiring without being over the top. Highly recommend.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I interpreted it differently than the reviewer – despite the presence of James Earl Jones’s character, the movie isn’t thumping bibles so much as showing how our social structures break down at every level: family, society, religion (some of the women’s uneasiness at having images of them and their babies used to get donations is a particularly thoughtful touch). But more than anything, the performances ground the film. Vanessa Hudgens is a killer lead, and definitely an actress to watch out for in the future (not to mention Rosario Dawson, who’s tremendous, as she always is).

  4. Ann says:

    Gimme Shelter does not push any sort of religious or political message. The film sets out to tell an honest, hopeful story without condemning a woman’s right to choose. The performances are incredible, and people need to give this film a chance.

    Here’s a link to the trailer:

  5. It is sad, regardless of political orientation, when the professional culture’s peer pressure and threat of blacklisting trumps giving credit where credit is due in a movie review. Variety’s credibility is questionable.

  6. Ed O says:

    Is the expression ” baby spawning community” meant as a term of respect for the female gender? I have to believe that mothers are super majority subset of adult females. The war on motherhood continues and so, I believe, does the war on women. How tone deaf is this reviewer? Again this writer clearly finds no joy when babies rain down.

  7. Dave W says:

    Reducing this film to a “pro-life message movie” is downright lazy on Variety’s part. And it isn’t “conservative” per se, either. This film is about exactly what it’s 1-sheet tagline says: “Sometimes you have to leave home to find your family”, a rare instance of truth-in-advertising.

    Ronnie Schieb needs to make more of an effort to actually leave the prejudicial baggage at the door, because reductionist reviews like this make for zero credibility.

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