Brimming with personality, wonderfully odd and idiosyncratic, it’s truly hard to believe that Closet Monster is the debut feature of young Canadian director Stephen Dunn. In a relentlessly emotional coming-of-age story, Dunn explores the sexual awakening of his young male protagonist, whose repressed homosexual desires manifest both psychologically and physically, incorporating some intense and supremely clever body-horror; the result is an imaginative and nuanced take on the theme of homosexual alienation.
Young Oscar Madly (Jack Fulton) enjoys a close relationship with his doting father, Peter (Aaron Abrams), their family life seemingly so idyllic that one can’t help but judge his mother Brin (Joanne Kelly) harshly when she decides to leave them. Soon afterwards, Oscar witnesses a horrific attack on a schoolmate, who is left paralysed from the waist down: targeted, as Peter dismissively explains, because he was gay. Fast forward ten years and Oscar has grown into a creative and artistic 18-year-old, desperate to escape to New York with his best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) and get away from his casually homophobic father, who has become bitter, sullen and ultra-possessive. When he meets charismatic Wilder at his new job, Oscar begins to struggle with his sexuality (already obvious to everyone bar Peter), his palpable arousal stirring up a self-loathing, the roots of which lie in the trauma of his childhood.
Part of the originality of Closet Monster comes from the utilisation of some unusual but persuasive narrative techniques, not least of which is a talking hamster voiced (bizarrely) by Isabella Rossellini, apparently a projection of Oscar’s internal psyche. Though it takes a little while to get used to the hamster’s presence, it does provide a large part of the genial wit and emotional depth present throughout Closet Monster. Oscar’s psychological state is also illustriously represented through a remarkably inventive soundtrack, a mix of electronic beats that at key narrative moments reflect his mental crises through dynamic pacing and pitch. Whilst the camerawork is largely unexceptional, it does come into its own during an MD propelled party scene, working with the climatic score to create a frenzied sense of self-actualisation.
The strange mix of surrealist elements with an undeniable sense of realism works to create a genuinely authentic exploration of the connection between the mental and physical world. Whilst the gore scenes will have audiences squirming in their seats for obvious reasons, Closet Monster is equally physically affecting in other aspects, from awkward encounters that will leave one cringing as though one’s own, to the uncomfortably stirring handling of the father-son bond; this is a film that sucks its viewer into its visceral, vivid world, making for an immersive and electrifying viewing experience.
Closet Monster does not have a UK release date yet.
It is part of the Dare competition at the 59th London Film Festival.
Watch the trailer for Closet Monster here: