Film #267: Closet Monster (2015)

closet-monsterdirector: Stephen Dunn
language: English
length: 90 minutes
watched on: 9 Feb 2017

This was another big release of last year that I hadn’t seen – it’s been out in some film festivals and on DVD, and like Departure or Being 17, I’d seen a lot of gifs from the movie, or trailers, or whatever. It looked good even before watching it, just based on the visual style.

I didn’t really know what it was about – from the trailer, you can fairly assume it’ll be a gay coming-of-age story, which is true. So I swear blind I’m not seeking out movies where the protagonists have horribly dysfunctional relationships with their parents, or parents going through a divorce, or whatever (this follows pretty soon after Sing Street and Departure). It just keeps happening that way.

This particular protagonist is called Oscar (and his crush in the movie is called Wilder, of all the obvious allusions you could make), and in his childhood (the initial scenes of the movie) he witnesses a brutal homophobic attack, which leaves him pretty traumatized. A large part of the movie is him trying to overcome that trauma later in the movie, when he starts having sexual experiences – and the other part is him trying to distance himself from his parents. He is desperate to get a place in a college as a movie make-up artist, so that he can move out of his deadend middle-of-nowhere hometown (again, very similar to Sing Street). It’s filmed in Newfoundland – I can indeed imagine it must feel very far from anywhere else if you live there.

The director, Stephen Dunn, has been rightly compared to Xavier Dolan (I’ve only seen J’ai tué ma mère, a while ago, but that also has a dysfunctional parent-child relationship) – perhaps mainly because the films explore family relationships, but I imagine it’s also the visual style of the movie, which is frenetic and colourful. I really liked the use of colour in the movie – too many movies that I see these days are drab in comparison. It also has a nice electronic soundtrack, and I just had to find the music online after hearing it in the movie.

The exploration of the boy’s trauma is central to the movie, and I liked how it did this, sliding in and out of Oscar’s imagination. There are a lot of layers to how this is told, too – shifting the focus of blame and attribution a lot between him and the parents. The way it’s done also fits with the dreamy music, and the colourful mise-en-scène.

The relationship with the other boy is also developed naturally, but we’re left wondering how much of that too is in the main character’s imagination. That too doesn’t follow the usual plot trajectory of the standard gay coming-of-age film.

Ultimately, though, it’s the relationship with the parents that is most important in this film – neither of them ultimately come off well out of it. Fortunately, it didn’t feel quite as relevant to my own life as Departure, as there was a lot more emotional abuse going on from all sides. Obviously the father is the major conflict, but the mother often appears dismissive to her son’s interests and needs, and I was annoyed that she didn’t tell her son she loves him.

But despite all the doom and gloom, I think there is an optimistic heart to the film, including various comedic moments throughout. In the ambiguous ending, there is a sense that things are going to get better, despite the bleak setting and all the terrible stuff that happens up until then.

So generally I liked this. The only things I can think to say negatively are that the movie could be a bit over-the-top, too melodramatic at times, or that people interact in scripted and unnatural ways. That said, there are enough moments that struck me as very real, or directly comparable to my own experiences. But thankfully, not the emotional abuse or the visions of violence.

I would recommend this whole-heartedly. I’m glad I’m getting to watch a lot of good movies recently. Has anyone else seen this? I’d be interested to know what you think.

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