The 400-Word Review: Gimme Shelter

By Sean Collier

January 27, 2014

Wait, is that the girl from High School Musical or Johnny Depp?

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Gimme Shelter, a poorly-made argument masquerading as a film, is hopelessly constructed and poorly scripted, and sullies the real story it purports to tell. Worse still: it stars Vanessa Hudgens.


The tale: A defiant teenage runaway, pregnant and abused, makes a fleeting attempt to reconnect with her birth father before she’s taken in by a shelter for young girls with babies on the way. Hudgens’ character, Apple, is based on a real person, as is the matronly head of the shelter (the overqualified Ann Dowd); I won’t include the names of those individuals, not wanting to shame them further than the movie has.

The trouble: Gimme Shelter, written and directed by Ron Krauss, possesses a startling opposition to including any scenes that justify, explain or even depict its characters' actions. Apple clearly evolves over the course of the movie, but does so offscreen; to us, she goes from a sass-mouthed rebel to a reborn mother-to-be with no transition, literally from one scene to the next. In one case, characters we’ve been waiting to see together finally meet ... only to immediately walk away, leaving the brief promise of an interesting encounter unfulfilled.


The offense: Apple’s trials, and the real-world events they approximate, are sad indeed, and her redemption encouraging. But the story here was clearly that of the shelter’s owner, who herself went from pregnant and homeless to shepherding generations of teens to better lives. Gimme Shelter doesn’t bother to clue us in on her life, giving scant details and turning the camera again and again to Apple, who — even in the context of the film — does not have a story more remarkable than many others.

Hopefully, Gimme Shelter will at least provide the fail nail in the coffin on Hudgens’ hopeless film career. Lacking the charm and believability of even her Disney-bred peers, her line readings wouldn’t be given a passing grade in a freshman-level acting course, and have no business in anything finer than a direct-to-video slasher flick. (Maybe that’s appropriate, since I’ve seen plenty of direct-to-video slasher flicks that I enjoyed more than this film.) Dowd and Rosario Dawson, as Apple’s mother, offer some desperately-needed credibility in their scenes.

It may be something of a shame, as the story behind the shelter deserves recognition. Unfortunately, the heroic people behind that institution made the critical mistake of trusting their lives to the lot behind this dud.

My Rating: 1/10
Official Rating from 52/100

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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