It’s more than just a superficial observation between mother and daughter. “I wasn’t that much older than you,” June tells Apple, referring to her own teen pregnancy. But she’s not making a sincere effort to empathize. She’s condemning Apple. Consumed by self-hatred, June doesn’t actually want her daughter to ever rise above her level. By this point in the Gimme Shelter, we don’t really know Apple yet. But we sense that she aspires to a higher level of achievement than what has been laid out for her. Later on, we’ll see a more explicitly horrifying example of June’s loathing, but this verbal condemnation itself is more than enough.
The second key moment is a follow-up to an encounter between a convalescing Apple and the kindly Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones). In a genuine, though perhaps slightly mistimed, effort to reach out to Apple, McCarthy is the one who encourages her to visit the shelter, run by a woman named Kathy (Ann Dowd). Apple reacts with unhinged anger, ordering the priest out of her room. Later, a more composed Apple attempts an awkward apology, sitting with McCarthy in the hospital chapel. “Never apologize for your true feelings,” McCarthy replies, catching Apple off guard. As a viewer, I was caught off guard too (just as with the earlier moment), because quite frankly Gimme Shelter is fraught with its share of clunky, forced dialogue. But with moments like these, Krauss redeems himself by conveying succinct, thoughtful points.
We’re told at the outset that Gimme Shelter is “based on a true story,” but the plot is nondescript to the point where such billing is not entirely necessary. Lacking specifics to the point of being nearly generic in form, Apple’s situation could represent almost anyone’s story. What drives the film is Hudgens’ urgent performance. Her turn in Spring Breakers seemed almost like stunt casting, as if the High School Musical star was screaming, “Look at what a bad girl I am!” Here she delivers a truly searing performance as the confused, lost, and dejected Apple. The supporting cast is effective, especially Dawson as her burn-out mother, but mostly underused. Fraser has some nice moments as the father who regrets abandoning Apple, but very limited screen time. The same goes for Dowd (one of the best actors working in movies today, see her extraordinary work in Compliance for evidence). But with Hudgens at the center, the film’s Lifetime-esque elements are transcended and it remains emotionally gripping.
A low-budget production depicting a low-key set of characters, Gimme Shelter isn’t exactly startling to experience on Blu-ray. But its audio/visual specs are solid. Cinematographer Eric Steven Kirkland apparently shot the movie on Super 16, which is an admittedly bold approach these days. Naturally, we see considerable more grain and the result is a more organic, earthy image. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is driven almost entirely by dialogue. Everything, including the music by Christopher Lennertz, is well presented in a mix that is never flashy or unnecessarily cluttered.
As for supplements, there is a pair of short pieces. The 12-minute “making of” featurette is slightly deeper than the average EPK fluff. There’s also a selection of deleted scenes that runs about six minutes. Director Ronald Krauss can be heard on the optional commentary for this material. The package also includes an UltraViolet digital copy.
Were it not for the heartbreaking performance by Vanessa Hudgens, Gimme Shelter would not be easy to recommend. Much of it plays like dozens of other “teen pregnancy” movies. Apple's housemates at the shelter, including Emily Meade as Cassandra, are especially underdeveloped. But Hudgens work is so strong it really tips the balance, making this film worth seeking out.