TIFF 2015 | Closet Monster (Stephen Dunn, Canada)—Discovery


By Adam Nayman

Murder, masturbation, melancholy, molly—this is one overstuffed Canadian debut feature. Perhaps they should have cut the talking hamster. That said rodent squeaks with the voice of Isabella Rossellini marks a casting coup for this low-budget Newfoundland production about the growing pains of a moody teen. The arch campiness of Rossellini’s bits blends uneasily with the generally morose tone imposed by writer-director Stephen Dunn, an experienced short filmmaker who overextends himself in a longer format. As its title suggests, Closet Monster is about lurking sexual anxiety: after stumbling upon the aftermath of a hate crime as a child, Oscar (Connor Jessup) has a tortured relationship with his own hormones, made worse by the fact that Dad (Aarom Abrams) is a not-so-subtle homophobe. As a meditation on the old nature-vs.-nurture question, Dunn’s film comes down on the side of externally conditioned pathology: Oscar’s tentative queerness seems like a by-product of his broken home and bruised psyche, which in turn feel cruelly jerry-rigged by a filmmaker trying to make something at once empathetic and idiosyncratically stylish (i.e. the intermittent eruptions of early-Cronenbergian body-horror shock effects, which are there just to goose the audience). Jessup holds the camera like a star (as he did in Blackbird), but it’s not quite enough to put the film over the top.