The first project of the here! gay television network’s new movie initiative, Shelter regrettably plays closer to Lifetime fodder. Having traded art-school aspirations for thankless family obligations, Zach (Trevor Wright) finds himself stranded as a perpetually underappreciated burger-flipper and babysitter in San Pedro, California. When not taking care of his nephew while older sister Jeanne (Tina Holmes) sleeps with her latest nightclub acquaintance, he finds fleeting escape riding the waves. It doesn’t occur to Zach that the reason he keeps breaking up with his girlfriend Tori (Katie Welder) might be that he prefers boys, though the thought gradually penetrates his mind as he meets Shaun (Brad Rowe), an easygoing Orange County writer who becomes his surf buddy and guide out of the closet. The worn cliché of the playful scuffle that escalates into a first kiss might have been redeemed by some horned-up action, but Jonah Markowitz’s film remains a docile coming-out tale, its sex as tepid as its dramaturgy is earnest. There’s a potentially interesting concept in developing the protagonist’s sexual identity in tandem with his blossoming as an artist, yet both elements are rudimentarily realized; Zach’s attitude toward his newfound queerness is reduced to idle shorthand (a furtive glance at a dude’s buff bod, nervous eye-rolling when sis asks if he’s a “fag”), while his renewed interest in visual arts is just a setup for a pat finale. Gentle-spirited but exceedingly pedestrian and guilty of alt-rock montages to boot, Shelter could use less circumscribed sensitivity and more barbed insights (or, at least, fewer clothes).
Blacks are a bit inky but color saturation is clear and the print is free of blemishes, and though the sun's rays typically don't attract as much edge combing in real life, the sand and waves appear credible enough. Dialogue can be a little flat at times but the soundtrack's cheesy songs will rock your speakers.
A photo gallery, a trailer, a half-hour making-of featurette that aired on the here! network, a music video for Shane Mock's "Lie to Me," and a chummy commentary track by writer-director Jonah Markowitz and stars Trevor Wright and Brad Rowe. Wright's naiveté is adorable (he acknowledges the difficulty of acting and driving at the same time) and Rowe, who accuses Wright of having farted under the covers during one of their make-out sessions, shoots the shit as if he's made this movie a million times before.
In the kennel of gay films, Shelter is a puppy dog: It's cute but it lacks bite.