‘Closet Monster’ Review | IndieAdam @ TIFF 2015

After being greeted to a warm welcome from local Torontoians and Ryerson students, both past and present, Writer/Director/RTA graduate Stephen Dunn treated the premier audience at the packed Ryerson theater to the latest installment in his peculiar and, dare I say, ‘vivid’ Pop-Up Porno shorts. Unfolding from the pages of the Holy Bible, Dunn told the tale of a ludicrously homoerotic mix-up involving the lovely service of Grindr. Featuring a plethora of meticulously hand drawn penises presented in storybook fashion, the young filmmaker brilliantly injects humor into a sensitive contemporary movement, which, despite its exposing nature, is easily accessible through its playful presentation, not to mention humorous.

Something I wish I felt in full affect if not for my sorry Mom setting to my right, who, unlike the rest of the audience, likely failed to crack smile. Not that I would know, of course, considering our unspoken mutual agreement to forget the incident even occurred, much less as it was unfolding onscreen.

To our collective relief, the feature presentation ‘Closet Monster’ finally began its first screening. Unfortunately, a term of rejection Dunn is apparently all too familiar with; the same explicit light-hearted commitment from the aforementioned short is almost entirely diluted in this pompous mess of a film. Running a mere 90 minutes, the script trudges alongside its underdeveloped characters dealing with their inchoate relationships before jerking a plot plagued by coercive jumble of symbolism whilst expecting audiences to empathize much less remain intrigued until its checklist of an ending.


In what would seem to be a fairly elementary concept – a teenage Oscar (Connor Jessup) seeks his sexuality, spurred by his suggestive co-worker Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) amidst the angst of his supposedly repulsive father (Aaron Abrams), is bogged down its inability to organically balance its excess of allegories with a investing narrative. Eye-rolling ensues on several occasions: Oscar creeping through a graveyard with a wooden stake as he literally dreamt the night before; a group of eager teenage girls miraculously whisk Oscar away to a room packed with make-up and costumes just incase someone wore a lame get-up; Buffy, Oscar’s pet hamster (voiced by the terrific gender-bending talents of Isabella Rossellini), is actually killed by his father in a fit of rage. Yes, a grown man killed his son’s hamster.

Naturally one would then presume Peter to be a horrible father, a presumption that is apparently the goal of the film considering the blatant lack of empathy attributed to his clunky and largely absent development. Even if this oversight was intentional, it still doesn’t do Oscar any favors, as his retaliations towards his father highlight the man’s inner loneness and unruly hostility as opposed to his son’s angst – the intended vehicle for our empathy is instead a blockade between our ties to someone who is clearly intended for a better light. Even less time is allotted to the divorce of Oscar’s parents, asking us to believe a boy would go as far as spit in his mother’s face out of love without first displaying a single happy moment as a family.

Connor Jessup as Oscar in 'Closet Monster'

Connor Jessup as Oscar in ‘Closet Monster’

Still, where ‘Closet Monster’ succeeds it fails shortly thereafter. Finally showing signs of life, a visually stunning palette is employed near the start of the third act only to plunge back into the traditional, largely uninspired camera work. A metaphor for Oscar coming alive at the party, you say? Unjust, lazy cinematography, I retort. Similar comments can be reserved for the character of Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf), Oscar’s best friend, or should I say until the plot no longer requires her – triggering a fallout that last longer than both the build up and scene it took place in combined. The soundtrack feels just as forced, hoping to invoke contemporary emotions through its synth melodies but instead emitting a jarring affect against the rural Eastern Canadian coastline.

Perhaps the problem lies in the film’s desire to ground itself in realism whilst simultaneously drawing genuine laughs. A bloody metal rod, which haunts Oscar after witnessing the brutal assault of a gay student, is expected to singlehandedly ground a film that seems more concerned with writing material for cheeky hamster. Thus, I’m confident in saying Dunn should continue pursuing homosexual humor. As displayed in ‘Pop-Up Porno’ and, at times, in ‘Closet Monster,’ the filmmaker has the exceptional ability to help usher in a contemporary brand of humor that will surely explode in the coming years. Whether or not he’ll bring it to the big screen, however, will need to be decided by several script doctors, I’m sure.

‘Closet Monster’ receives a 1.5/5


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