Closet Monster

***

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Closet Monster
"Well-paced, genuinely funny most of the time and emotionally resonant."

At first glance writer-director Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster looks like the most painfully indie of indies. With its 90s-flavoured electro score, autumnal colour palette and young, pretty cast, everything screams “Sundance bait”. It even features a pet hamster voiced by Isabella Rossellini. Quirk alert.

Yet Dunn's feature debut turns out to be a surprisingly distinctive coming of age story, both darker and more idiosyncratically funny that it at first appears likely to be. It even veers into some quite icky Cronenbergian body horror in its depiction of the mental anguish young Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) is going through as a result of his closeted sexuality and his witnessing of a traumatising, homophobic crime when he was a pre-teen. His oppressive and boorish father (Aaron Abrams) and unresolved abandoned child issues following his mother’s sudden departure have only caused his torment to first become further internalised and then to manifest outwards in very strange ways, to the point where fiction and reality start to blur.

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Despite the weirdness, Dunn’s script and Jessup’s sympathetic performance (he’s callow, but not irritating or bland) sell the emotional weight of Oscar’s dilemma. Even the talking hamster (one way in which his anxieties are shown to be taking on very physical forms) element works, partly because this kind of left-field idea suits Rossellini, but also because the script never makes these kinds of odd flourishes cute for the sake of it, and they never twist the general flow of the film out of shape.

Yes, the story does hit some familiar "rite of passage" beats, and it is hardly the first film to try to evoke the atmosphere of a woozy, druggy teenage summer with scenes of neon lights, a pulsing score and slo-mo partying. But it is well-paced, genuinely funny most of the time, emotionally resonant, and well-acted too.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2015
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A sexually confused teenager drifts into a fantasy world where his anxieties take physical shape.

Festivals:

London 2015
Flare 2016

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