Sydney Film Festival Review: Closet Monster (Canada, 2015)

Closet Monster isn’t a film that succeeds because on its premise alone. It’s all in the execution. Though hardly the first drama film to concern itself with what it means to grow up queer in the 21st century, it feels rare to find a film as well realised as this one. The acting, direction, editing and music in Closet Monster all deliver, while Stephen Dunn‘s script works overtime to make good on the film’s many personal touches. The whole endeavor is bristling with creative energy and the results are vivid.

The central figure here is the artistic and sexually confused Oscar (Connor Jessup). He’s haunted by memories from his childhood, his only solace found in the comfort of his talking hamster (Isabella Rossillini) and best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). That is, until the arrival of a new boy (Aliocha Schneider) at work stirs up trouble. Things escalate from there but the way that things unfold never feels forced.

Scenes flow effortlessly from one to the next and there’s a striking quality to the locations in the film that persists all the way to the credits. There’s even some surreal body-horror elements to the film which are incredibly effective at capturing the feelings and entrapment and turmoil of its principle character. These sequences are granted further power by an energetic and pulsating soundtrack featuring artists like Austra, Allie X, Beta Frontiers and Tei Shi.

Across the board, the performances all come across as very authentic. Each character has layers of good and bad to them – even Oscar. A self-destructive mess Oscar’s father (Aaron Abrams) may be, but it’s always clear his actions are guided by love. Even at his lowest moments, he’s still human and that makes him engaging to watch. There’s a similar strength and humanity to Jessup’s performance. Oscar isn’t always right but his actions always make sense given what’s he’s been through.

Early on in the film, he witnesses a brutal hate-crime and he carries that trauma through the film. Likewise, the many small but nuanced details like Oscar’s passion for makeup and special effects and his frequent references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer invite you to forge a connection with the film. Then, once that connection has been established, the film wields a staggering amount of emotional weight.

On the lighter side of things, Rossillini’s Buffy the Hamster proves an unexpected comedic MVP of the film adding a lot of self-aware humor to the mix. This said, Oscar’s boss  (Mary Walsh) at the hardware store certainly has her moments.

Closet Monster that has it all, and makes having it all look even easier. It brings personality, emotional depth and charm to every level of its production with strong performances by Jessup and Abrams carrying it over the line into excellence. It’s not to be missed.


Closet Monster is showing at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. For more information on the film and screenings click here


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