When Oscar (Connor Jessup) was a little boy, instead of telling him a bedtime story, his father Peter (Aaron Abrams) would give him a “dream.” As he made up the dream for Oscar’s sleep, Peter would also blow up a balloon, hold the opening to Oscar’s forehead and let the air escape. This is a wonderful image and not the most surreal one in “Closet Monster” (Strand Releasing) by a long shot.
On the last of Oscar’s birthdays, when his parents were still married, Oscar’s mother Brin (Joanne Kelly) gave him a hamster. She then proceeded to break the news to him that she was moving out of the house. Oscar, whose vivid imagination got him through many childhood traumas, could hear Buffy the hamster speaking to him, and she sounded just like Isabella Rossellini (!). Oscar’s parents’ divorce began a string of events, including his witnessing some boys bullying a student and raping him with rebar, that traumatized Oscar into his teens.
Now in high school, Oscar and his BFF Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) make plans to go to college in New York. Oscar wants to study makeup and effects for movies. He’s also a good photographer and takes pictures of Gemma for her portfolio. It’s clear from their interactions that Gemma has feelings for Oscar, but he doesn’t feel the same way.
While working at his job at a big-box home improvement store, Oscar meets the fittingly named Wilder (Aliocha Schneider of “Ville-Marie”). Soon they are hanging out together, which is a good thing for Oscar since his home-life with his father, and occasional visits with his mother and her new family, don’t go so well. Wilder invites Oscar to a party where Oscar has a bad reaction to the drugs he takes, followed by an unsuccessful sexual encounter with sizzling hot Andrew (James Hawksley).
As Oscar, who’s never had it easy and maybe never will, navigates the choppy waters of his life, he alternates between his complex reality and a series of surreal and frightening fantasies, such as vomiting nuts and bolts. For the most part, “Closet Monster” is a fascinating story about that gray area between adolescence and adulthood, a realm perfected by gay filmmaker Xavier Dolan.
Jessup owns the role of Oscar from the first moment we see him onscreen. However, the graphic fantasy sequences (and less visceral ones including the talking hamster) have a way of interrupting the flow of the movie and might make you wish that writer/director Stephen Dunn made things either more or less surreal, not so in-between. Overall, the film’s performance is a B-.
DVD/Blu-ray bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, the original theatrical trailer and, on the Blu-ray only, an interview with director Dunn.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of “Fifty Degrees” (Seven Kitchens, 2016), co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections “How to Whistle” (Lethe Press, 2016) and “Lincoln Avenue” (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook “GREGG SHAPIRO: 77” (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection “Protection” (Gival Press, 2008). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog k.d.
Read more of Gregg’s reviews at SouthFloridaGayNews.com/Film/ScreenSavor.html