Stephen Dunn’s fabulous semi-autobiographical Closet Monster is one hell of a directorial debut, and it is definitely one of the best films that this year has to offer.
Closet Monster concerns an imaginative young man named Oscar, who, as a young child, witnessed a horrifying gay hate crime in a graveyard which has haunted him for most of his life. Oscar has been wrestling with his sexuality for quite some time, and whenever his sexual longing overwhelms him, the images of that terrible crime flood his mind, causing him to rush back into the closet, afraid to embrace this side of himself.
Oscar has never had it easy, especially since his parents split, and his dad is a borderline alcoholic with a homophobic streak. Needless to say, things are stressful at home. He spends most of his time with his friend, Gemma, as they take pictures for Oscar’s portfolio for makeup school. Oscar wants to specialize in special effects makeup for the movies, and he takes great pride in his work, as it is both a comfort and a way of escape.
Oscar’s constant companion since childhood comes in the form of a hamster named “Buffy”, who “speaks” to Oscar throughout the film, commenting on the changes that she is seeing within him and offering friendly advice. When Oscar falls for one of his co-workers, the curly haired, chain smoking Wilder, he is plummeted into a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, terrified of the desire that lurks within him – which manifests itself in ways that are both sensual and grotesque.
At only 27 years of age, Stephen Dunn ranks alongside Xavier Dolan as one of the most exciting filmmakers of this generation. This is an incredibly personal film, dense and meticulously crafted. Although it takes us to some raw and unsettling places, there is also a definite tenderness here. Most of the film looks and feels as if it has been cut together from fragments of a dream, and it is that surreal touch that makes Closet Monster such a special experience.
And, by the way, it boasts a killer soundtrack.
The performances are excellent, especially from Connor Jessup as Oscar and Aliocha Schneider as Wilder. They dive headfirst into their characters, bringing out all of the emotional complexity and sensuality that is required of them in an effortless fashion. The rest of the cast is just as good, and it is a credit to Stephen Dunn that he is able to direct his actors so well. It must also be said that, as the voice of “Buffy”, Oscar’s adorable, scene-stealing sidekick, Isabella Rossellini is marvelous. Casting her for this small – yet pivotal – character was a stroke of genius.
Closet Monster is a real find, one that you don’t want to miss. Another extraordinary Canadian film has surfaced in this small gem.
Distributed by Strand Releasing.