Writer-director Stephen Dunn’s feature debut, Closet Monster, is a movie I feel I should be more supportive of and exited about. In most ways, it’s exactly the type of film that’s in short supply in this time of reboots and sequels and gigantic cinematic universes. Closet Monster is a curious creation, one that’s personal and idiosyncratic, occasionally stylish and often emotionally complex. It’s also not a movie that, at any point, truly excited me or convinced me there’s a new, urgent cinematic voice in this world. The most enthusiasm I can gather for the film is it’s the arrival of an interesting new filmmaker — one with potential, but one who hasn’t realized it here.
The story itself is little more than your run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story, though it doesn’t totally embrace this track until late in the film. Connor Jessup plays Oscar, an 18-year-old who’s coming to terms with his sexuality, something especially difficult due to his poor relationship with his parents — especially his petty, spiteful father (Aaron Abrams) — and the lasting effects of a gay man’s murder he witnessed as a child. Because of these two aspects, Closet Monster is a bit darker (both in its color palette and its general tone, though not overbearingly) than you’d generally expect from this type of movie. Unfortunately, this rarely works in its favor. Closet Monster is a film about trauma, fear, repression, confusion and angst, so it naturally has a dour tone — even when it’s trying to be lighthearted.
Hurting things is the fact that the movie isn’t quite as emotionally affecting as it needs to be or really even should be. The tone of the film never properly hits, and it’s often a bit too proud of its own symbolism, which is all-too-glaringly on the nose. This is, after all, a film where the most touching character is (yes, really!) a talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). And I can’t exactly tell why this is. Oscar, as a creation, is relatable in his confusion at growing up and his fear of being himself, and the film itself does an admirable job of portraying these emotions. He’s just a bit too self-contained and slightly too lacking in upbeat emotions — an unfortunately stolid creation performed a bit too stiffly. The film is both dark and whimsical, yet isn’t especially adept at either.
This isn’t to say that Closet Monster doesn’t have points of interest outside of its shortcomings. It’s definitely ambitious in its desire to show the conflicts inherent in family. This is particularly emphasized in Oscar’s father, an often over-the-top caricature of an alcoholic, abusive dad, but one with enough love in him to muddy the waters — in both Oscar and the viewer. Dunn’s direction, too, is clever and stylish (though a bit too reliant on muted colors and close-ups), occasionally slipping into the surreal (with notes of Cronenbergian body horror of all things), all while thankfully trusting the audience to go along with this. All this adds up to an interesting little movie, but one lacking any sort of true impact to propel it towards greatness. Not Rated.
Now playing at Grail Moviehouse