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By Jim Agnew | September 10, 2004

“Shelter” tells the story of three young street kids from New York that flee the city in an attempt to leave their monumental and disturbing problems behind. Once they reach their destination they quickly discover that a change of surroundings is only a temporary fix and not necessarily the solution to a troubled past.

The film centers around Ray a troubled 16-year-old (played by Ray Santiago) who spends his days tending to his sick mother. Ray leaves his world behind and hooks up with his runaway brother, a street hustler named Spider. Soon after family friend and neighbor the pregnant drug addict Maria joins up with the two brothers. It doesn’t take long for the three to decide to leave the mean street of New York in search of a new life.

When they reach the beach the three hole up in an abandoned summer rental outside of the city. For a few days their new life seems to be what the three needed, an existence filled with peace, quiet and tranquility. But the three soon find out that even in their new surroundings they are still haunted by their brutal past.

First time director Benno Schoberth deftly guides his actors through the strong material and you feel for these three as they realize their lives are a wreck and the only way that they can change things is to hurt the ones they love. The acting is top notch, John Rafael Peralta especially shines as the street wise but not so smart Spider.

My biggest complaint though is that the real crux of the story happens when the kids reach their new and alien surroundings. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen until over half way through the film. But still, it’s an intriguing portrait of the less fortunate and the paths their lives head. It’s similar territory to Larry Clark’s great street flick “Kids.” “Shelter” could be thought of as “Kids Lite.”

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