VINTAGE REVIEW: Shelter (2007) ***
Starring: Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe, Tina Holmes, Ross Thomas.
Director: Jonah Markowitz
A story that follows a young, struggling artist coming to terms with his sexuality might not appear at first glance to break any new ground. But Shelter, released in 2007 by LGBT production company ‘here!’, is a touching tale that warms the heart and shows the power of friendship and romance, a story of two men who each help the other find what they are looking for in life.
We begin the story with Zach, an artist who spends his time balancing a kitchen job that he hates, a sometimes-girlfriend, and caring for his father and nephew. It’s pretty evident from the get-go that Zach isn’t happy with his lot in life. And we sympathise with him, through and through from start to finish. He’s a lovable character, and well-realised. His internal and external struggles are clear, and you find yourself rooting for him to find happiness. This happiness is found in Shaun, a writer and free spirit who pushes Zach to chase his dreams, but who is also stuck in his own rut. What begins as a friendship develops into something more, and flourishes beautifully.
It’s a sincere love story that shows how two lost souls can find each other. The film is packed with clever symbolism and plot devices, which might surprise you given the straight-to-DVD feeling of the film. It might feel quite basic in its style, but its heart is in the right place, and it promotes the right message when it comes to coming-of-age and coming out. It's not packed with comedy, and the drama is quite basal. But Zach and Shaun's chemistry is really what you tune in for. There's the standard amount of twists and turns with the people in Zach and Shaun's life questioning their ever-growing 'friendship', but it sometimes feels like the film might work better with less characters, less drama, and focusing entirely on the connection between the two leads.
At points, it can feel very much like an early-noughties, MTV surfer drama, but the depth of the connection between Shaun and Zach saves it. The look and sound of the film definitely dates it, and places it firmly on the beaches of LA, but the music is actually quite touching. A lot of it was composed for the film by Shane Mack, acoustic, simple and male led music that matches the film perfectly.
The film is quite low budget (and feels it), and drew in less than half the money spent from the box office. But don’t take this as a reflection of the film’s quality. The film received numerous awards at an almost exclusively LGBT-focused festival circuit.
I have to admit, there are a few characters you could probably drop without losing too much from the film, who seem to just fill the cast up, and the plot continues in a way that you’ll probably forget they exist. The ones who are put in to annoy the characters will probably just end up annoying you more.
Shelter isn’t revolutionary, and it’s been called mediocre in the past, getting mixed reviews from most sources, but to me to it tells a simple story in a beautiful way. In a world of cheesy male-female romantic dramas, it's nice to have a cheesy gay one, even if it isn't revolutionary.