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‘Wolves’ is engaging, ‘Shelter’ is uplifting and ‘Raze’ is revolting

"Big Bad Wolves," "Gimme Shelter" and "Raze"
"Big Bad Wolves," "Gimme Shelter" and "Raze"Magnolia Pictures, Roadside Attractions and IFC Films

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Jan. 24 are a crime thriller imported from Israel, a drama about homelessness starring Vanessa Hudgens and an exploitation flick about white-tank-top-clad women who are forced to beat each other to death.

Big Bad Wolves

A series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: The father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings - a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder. (NR - 110 minutes)

Once upon a time there were a couple of filmmakers named Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado who turned the horror genre on its head with a movie called “Rabies.” Now they try to do the same thing with crime thriller “Big Bad Wolves.” And while their sophomore effort is not nearly as revolutionary as their previous project, their sick-and-twisted sense of humor and sincerely shocking end-game revelations keep viewers interested and engaged from start to finish. You have probably heard this story before, but never with this much knack for tone and torture. (Thumbs Up!)

Gimme Shelter

Vanessa Hudgens plays a pregnant teenager whose journey plummets her into a perilous struggle until finding salvation in a suburban shelter for homeless teens where she is finally able to break the shackles of her past and embrace the future with clarity, maturity and hope not only for herself but her unborn child. (PG-13 - 100 minutes)

On the one hand, “Gimme Shelter” feels like a film that would be released by a faith-based studio. After all, it has got some strong Christian undertones, boasts a very valuable message and features many emotional moments that feel forced and a little heavy-handed. Even star Vanessa Hudgens’ performance is a bit too amplified - although it is impressive that she is able to break free from her “High School Musical” roots. Yet, as the motion picture progresses, the emotions come increasingly more natural and the story’s uplifting elements shine through - as do revelatory performances from supporting players Ann Dowd, Brendan Fraser and especially Rosario Dawson. (Thumbs Up!)

Raze

Zoe Bell plays a young woman who is abducted by an elite, secret society and wakes to find herself in the company of 50 other women who are, just like her, forced to fight for their lives in an unimaginable hell. (NR - 87 minutes)

Do you get a kick out of watching white-tank-top-clad women beat each other to death? Well, keep your eyes peeled for an e-mail from me with the name and number of a hopefully helpful therapist. In the meantime, the new film “Raze” will add more fuel to your frankly very disturbing fire. Although the final 15 minutes are riveting and rewarding, the rest is revolting - devoid of any redeeming value whatsoever (unless, of course, you equate exploitation with entertainment). Adding insult to injury is the fact that the beautiful Rachel Nichols receives top billing despite barely even being in the movie. (Thumbs Down!)