The second of TLA’s Blu-ray releases (the other being Latter Days), the 2007 romantic drama Shelter gets an HD upgrade. The film stars Trevor Wright as Zach, a young man finding his feet in life in a small Californian town. Despite a desire to go off to art college, he’s slightly trapped by his sister, who relies on him to help her look after her son and treats him as if he’s obliged to be a surrogate father to her kid and has no choice in the matter.
Things begin to change when Zach’s best friend’s brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), returns to the town. What initially starts out as a friendship develops into something deeper, with Zach finally finding someone he can express himself with and who seems to believe in him and his dreams. However with Zach still in the closet and pressure mounting on him from his homophobic sister and her increasingly selfish desires, working class life butts up against artistic dreams, and it may not be a romance that can survive.
While Shelter is a pretty small scale romance, the reason it succeeds and has fast become a gay cinema favourite is that it sticks close to the emotional core of its story, and does a great job of creating characters you can empathise with. While it’s a core staple of movies to wrestle emotion from the audience by trading in noble self-sacrifice, Shelter comes at things from the other direction and paints self-sacrifice as stifling and oppressive, suggesting that eventually it can actually become the selfish thing (Ayn Rand would be proud). It an interesting take on things, and actually quite rare in film to see it done well.
It’s also good to see a gay film that has some nice subtle touches – not something queer cinema is renowned for – with things such as Zach revealing that he knows Shaun is gay and their first acknowledgment they have feelings for one another handled in a low-key way that’s actually more emotionally involving than making it all unnecessarily overwrought.
If all this makes it sounds like it’s some sort of objectivist philosophical treatise, don’t worry, it isn’t. In fact it’s mainly just a very sweet, moving little romance that does what it sets out to do very well and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy by the end. In fact there’s a slightly by-the-numbers feels about some of it, even if more is going under the surface than first appears. There’s also plenty of buff guys stripped to the waist (a beachside location is always helpful for that), which is never a bad thing!
It’s a shame Trevor Wright hasn’t found more fame than he has, as he puts in a great performance in Shelter and deserves more success. His highest profile gig since Shelter has been playing ‘B.U. Guy in Bra’ in The Social Network, although he did get bigger roles in the straight-to-DVD sequels Vacancy 2 and 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams. However he’s very good here and really rather cute.
Overall Verdict: A sweet romance with a emotionally affecting core. It is indeed a film worth taking shelter in.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac