One of the best parts about seeing movies at Film Streams is that I can walk into the theater without knowing anything about them. Sometimes it’s fun to get excited about big studio movies. But it’s a bit of a drag that I seem to know too much information about most movies because of intense marketing. By contrast, I had never heard of Closet Monster until minutes before I saw it. Without any expectations, I was pleasantly surprised it was a true “arthouse” movie. It may not have been great, but director Stephen Dunn’s first movie is a trippy, unique experience that seems destined to acquire a cult fandom.
Closet Monster opens with a young boy, Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup), witnessing a brutal hate crime, as a group of psychopaths impale a gay man on a construction rod. Later that night, Oscar’s macho father (Aaron Abrams) brushes the incident off with stomach-churning homophobia that Oscar never forgets. By the time he’s old enough to begin wrestling with his own sexuality, Oscar fears the consequences of coming out while his father becomes suspicious. Closet Monster is covering well-tread cinematic territory, and it probably sounds weightier than it is. However, Dunn injects it with oddball energy that makes the movie dreamlike.
Many scenes use conversations between Oscar and his talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) to inform us about Oscar’s internal monologue. If it sounds silly, just wait until the scenes totally work for you. That’s the type of movie Closet Monsters is: it’s edgy and weird, but Dunn is a talented enough filmmaker that it feels like more than just an exercise in style. Even when Oscar is talking to the hamster, Closet Monster engages you in a much more intense way than similar movies. It’s not just quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness.
Jessup and Abrams are fine actors, competent in their roles, but they can’t overshadow the production elements. Closet Monster looks and sounds incredible, with some of the clunky storytelling moments being salvaged by the movie striking a unique tone. The cinematography itself is impressive, but I have a feeling that what will really draw folks in is the soundtrack. Featuring a mostly synthesized score, fans of Stranger Things and Drive will be pleased. I’m a sucker for synthesized beats...
I haven’t discussed most of the surprises in Closet Monster and I highly recommend avoiding any information about the movie. I know it feels shady to risk your time watching a movie that you know nothing about, but let yourself be surprised. Closet Monster is a highly stylized, hardcore “arthouse” movie that truly feels like something that you can’t just see at any old theater. It’s a well-tread story but well told, with a soundtrack that absolutely kicks ass. Like I said, it’s not amazing. Still, Closet Monster is a fresh experience that deserves an audience.
Grade = B+