Netflix Now: Closet Monster (2016) - Reviewed

The coming of age story is part of cinema's foundation.  Crossing national boundaries, genres, and stylistic presentations, directors have been sharing their personal experiences with audiences for decades.  Stephen Dunn's fierce directorial debut transmutes the standard "outcast overcomes all" story line into a queer odyssey of self-discovery.  Featuring a heartbreaking central performance, surreal manifestations of teenage misadventures, and kaleidoscopic visuals, Closet Monster is an undeniably sexy rumination on the dark wonders of love and loss.  

Dunn's screenplay hinges on the performance of Connor Jessup .  This young man's eager embrace of the subject matter is apparent in virtually every scene, taking protagonist Oscar through the emotional gauntlet.  Jessup portrays Oscar as flawed, petulant, talented, curious, and remarkable, the perfect mix to convey the magic of the teenage experience.  Closet Monster deviates from its colleagues by staying grounded in possibilities (despite the dream like elements), such as delving into the violent subject matter of hate crimes, something that profoundly affected Dunn when he himself was growing up closeted.

The supporting cast includes Oscar's bigoted father (a pitch perfect Aaron Abrams), his wayward mother (Joanne Kelley), loyal best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf), a possible love interest, played by the scene stealing Aliocha Schneider, and his talking hamster, voiced by legendary Isabella Rosselini.  One of the film's strongest attributes is how it blends elements of fantasy, with realistic uncertainty.  Despite Oscar's father's bellicose tendencies, the audience is given glimpses into the intimate side of his interactions with his son.  Relationships border on will they/won't they and never fully resolve themselves, mimicking the truths of companionship and the sexual awkwardness of teenagers.  Physical encounters run the gambit from borderline assault in one instance to self-fanning, pure sexual energy in another.    

Okay. Who brought the hallucinogenics?

The film is at its best whenever Dunn leaves things to interpretation, as his remarkable compositions; captured by Bobby Shore's magnetic cinematography, are easily able to convey their meanings without explanation, a feat made possible by the stellar camera work and Bryan Atkinson's delicate editing.  Melanie Oates's costumes and Tara Murphy's special make up effects enhance Oscar's pubescent crucible with lavish outfits and makeup designs that Oscar creates and photographs as a means of artistic escape.  

If one looks hard enough, there are flaws, but considering the emotional tie to the director, coupled with the knowledge of this being a debut feature film, the final product is not only a remarkable effort, but a profoundly relevant film for the current age.  The script is the weak sister, but it is overshadowed by Jessup's charisma and the surreal hijinks that carry the film away from overcooked melodrama and into the darker side of a gay boy becoming a man, an uncomfortable experience fraught with danger, embarrassment, and ultimately self-acceptance.

Available now on Netflix, Closet Monster won best Canadian feature at the Toronto Film Festival.  This is a special film, a once in a lifetime debut that creates a singular world inside the mind of a fragile poet, broken and bruised but not out of the fight.  Rubber banding between heartwarming and skin crawling, this is one of the few movies to truly harness the realities of a teenager's sexual awakenings.  If you're interested in a homosexual psychedelic spin on the classic coming of age tale, do not miss this one.


Kyle Jonathan