From director Stephen Dunn, “Closet Monster” is an inventive re-telling of the awkwardness and trauma that comes along with growing up. The film introduces us to Oscar (Connor Jessup) as a young boy, caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce. After witnessing an unspeakably violent and homophobic hate crime during primary school recess, Oscar develops an intense fear of his own sexuality, which he struggles with for the remainder of his adolescence. Fast forward a decade or so, and that same boy is at the tail end of his high school career, eager to get out of his small town cage. Amidst the inherently uncomfortable throws of teenage life and the emotional abuse of his father, Oscar is expected to grow up. He succeeds, but just barely, and it is this delicate balance between triumph and ruin which Dunn navigates so well.
The images in the film are viciously rendered, sharp on the cinema screen and poignant in delivery. The film uses Oscar’s involuntary flashbacks and daydreams to colourfully express just how ingrained a childhood experience can become, and how detrimental too. Every homophobic slur or judgemental glance registers as a punch to the gut. Dunn takes this bodily reaction to its extreme, using recurring scenes of body horror to both express and fuel Oscar’s psychological worry. However, alongside the grotesque is an abundance of sensitivity, mostly in the form of Oscar’s pet hamster, Buffy, voiced by Isabella Rossellini. She offers Oscar snippets of advice and encouragement, adding a layer of whimsy and humour to an otherwise dark film. “Closet Monster” dips into the sinister and explores the risks of growing up, but most importantly, it affirms the struggle of a young life on the edge of something more.