Many films push a hidden agenda of some kind, but Ronald Krauss’s “Gimme Shelter” — a teen-pregnancy drama which combines elements of “Juno” (2007) and “Precious” (2009) — at least makes its message obvious. Though it begins as a realistic look at urban pathology, with urchin-like Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) fleeing a brothel pursued by demonic whores, it soon settles into an anti-abortion polemic. Nothing wrong with that — some of the greatest films have been propaganda, and the story Krauss tells is affecting, provocative, and true (or is at least, as the press notes claim, a composite of true stories). But it is unlikely to convert the unconverted, in part because of its uneven performances, but mostly because it raises more questions than it answers.
One question it does answer is whether Vanessa Hudgens is an erratic actress. (Yes.) Fresh from Harmony Korine’s transgressive “Spring Breakers” (2012), the former star of the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” seems to be searching for an acting identity and, in the process, is revealing her limited talent. Declaring in interviews that as Apple she wanted to look “as ugly as possible,” she has chopped off her hair; added piercings, tattoos, and acne; gained weight; donned hobo clothes, and looks a little like Dondi, the war orphan in the comic strip. Mission accomplished, Vanessa.