Closet Monster is not only another case of a filmmaker who has taken the leap to long-form filmmaking after establishing themselves with short films, but it’s also a satisfying example of a storyteller succeeding under new guidelines.
Stephen Dunn caught my attention in 2012 with his award-winning, delightful “growing pains” short Life Doesn’t Frighten Me – it’s been smooth sailing since then. Even when I’ve disagreed with some of his directorial decisions (his gnarly short We Wanted More), he continued to astound me with his ability to blend reality with fantasy. In hindsight, Dunn needed We Wanted More in order to make Closet Monster. You can’t necessarily make a feature film this ambitious and explosive without a proper build-up. I love it when a plan comes together.
Closet Monster is a unique coming-of-age drama that uses character-driven moments and a time-shifting narrative to convey a journey from adolescence to maturity. Even then, the film provides a grey albeit gratifying finish for the protagonist because the journey is never quite over.
Having witnessed a startling hate crime at a young age along with his parents’ messy break-up, Oscar (Connor Jessup) has had a dysfunctional upbringing. His father Peter (Young People F**king’s Aaron Abrams) is a grown-up child who is able to introduce imagination to his son, which almost makes up for the absence of Oscar’s mother, Brin (Joanne Kelly of Canadian gross-out comedy Going the Distance).
As Oscar grows up, he begins identifying with his homosexuality, but he feels suppressed and alone in his tucked-away community. When he wants to feel natural urges, awful memories invade his euphoria. While he struggles with his sexuality, he also realizes the many sides to his arrogant father. Oscar has a couple of close friends, but his only honest pal comes in the form of his pet hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini).
I end with Connor’s pet hamster, because it’s that type of quirk that could push the boundaries of preciousness for some movie goers. It’d be a shame if some audiences turn away though; they’ll be missing Rossellini’s fantastic work. She manages to be empathetic, bitter, and jovial in ways only Isabella Rossellini can be.
Closet Monster takes audiences through an array of emotions. By the end, movie goers truly feel as if we’ve witnessed an incredible arc in someone’s life. Dunn directs the film with the fervour of a courageous auteur, however he is able to stay connected to his audience by shaping Connor into a relatable vessel for movie goers. The filmmaker also gets plenty of help from Jessup’s profound range, and a climactic rave where the entire film comes to a head.
Closet Monster is a marvellous movie. In other news, I can’t stop thinking about a double-billing of Dunn’s feature film debut with Cody Campanale’s currently unreleased yet equally impassioned Jackie Boy. The results would be staggering.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie