Renee is sixteen years old. She is also pregnant, poor and desperate. But stranded in the South, she is far from any kind of clinic or services that will help her in her dilemma.
So she enlists the help of a friend to help her end her pregnancy. But in order to achieve that, Renee must endure a certain level of violence — an act that brings forward unexpected layers of brutality.
Directed by April Nations — who co-wrote the story with Armaan Uplekar — this almost unbearably intimate drama gets into the headspace of a very young woman navigating a difficult situation, caught in circumstances beyond her control and flailing at any solution to find her way out.
Built on the foundation of a stripped-down but effective script, the story lays down the character and plot points with tight discipline and inexorable logic, giving this portrait of a young woman on a desperate precipice an inevitability and tragedy that feels almost classically Greek-like — as if Euripides told the story of a teenage girl facing an unintended pregnancy.
Told with a bare-knuckle tension and an unadorned matter-of-factness about its subject matter, the visual style has an almost documentary-like feel, thanks to its naturalistic camerawork and lighting — an approach that doesn’t allow viewers the comfort of distance. Its dark, moodily-saturated color palette has a weight to it as well, one that is both artful and foreboding, imbuing Renee’s journey with an ominous cast.
Within this dark world, Renee has few options, and the one she has is almost primitive in its brutality. Lead actor Amber Johnson gives a strong, contained and compelling performance as Renee faces the choice she’s made and actually attempts to carry it out. Nothing about this process is easy — from confronting what she’s doing to trying to achieve it — and Johnson’s performance puts viewers in the shoes of each beat, inviting intimacy and empathy — one that proves almost too agonizing as Renee endures the full unfolding of her choice.
There’s no doubt that “Gilt” is hard to watch, as unflinching as it is about the difficult decision and solution that its main character must endure. It’s a raw, unrelenting short, about how the political realities that seem so abstract in the news actually feel when they play out in the lives they affect. But its haunting, disturbing power comes from this unvarnished, steely-eyed approach — and from its proximity to the actual realities for many young women.