Movie Review - Closet Monster

Connor Jessup is the reason and probably the sole excuse to see this film. Jessup was a child actor who co-starred on the TV series Falling Skies on TNT. The Canadian actor went from that series to doing this film, but Jessup wouldn't make a name for himself until earlier this year when he received rave reviews for his role in the Emmy-nominated series American Crime, a role for which he should have been nominated himself. The raw, often quiet yet intense emotion he's able to exude is just incredible and he brings that great acting ability innately to this movie.

Writer-director Stephen Dunn in his feature debut, which won Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, focuses on the mental state of a teenage boy as he aspires to attend a school in New York and escape suburban life in Newfoundland, as well as deal with his same-sex attraction to a fellow co-worker. The crux of it all pivots around the boy's relationship with his single father. This crux makes the film at times soar and other times sink.

The inciting incident is the separation or in fact divorce of Peter Madly, played by Aaron Abrams (Blindspot and Hannibal), from his wife Brin, played by Joanne Kelly (Zoo and Warehouse 13). The separation happens when Peter and Brin's one and only child, Oscar, played by Jessup, is only six or seven, but no older than nine perhaps. Initially, Oscar's childhood leading up to the separation and even afterward is told almost completely through his point-of-view.

Oscar is left in the custody of his father Peter. As depicted for the first reel of this movie, mainly the first third, the relationship between Oscar and Peter seems wonderful. Whereas the relationship between Oscar and his mother Brin seems tense and a bit horrible. From Oscar's perspective, Brin abandoned Oscar. Yet, Dunn never reveals why Brin leaves or even what the cause of her and Peter's problems are.

Out of nowhere, Peter's behavior becomes awful. For nearly half the movie, we see Peter being a great father to Oscar, building him a tree-house and everything, but then his antagonism toward Oscar all of a sudden is just turned on. He even goes as far as dropping the f-bomb, the anti-gay slur. He rises as a homophobic threat that exists to be a plot device. Dunn has no interest in explaining or understanding where Peter's homophobia originates. Oscar's same-sex attraction becomes a source of fear because of a brutal, homophobic murder, which Oscar witnesses, but Peter's aversion to homosexuality is unfounded. He just seems to have transposed his feelings about his divorce, the bitterness of it, onto his son.

Instead of diving into Peter's head and bringing out what Peter is thinking or what his experience has been, Dunn incorporates a surreal aspect. Oscar talks to his pet hamster, which talks back to him in voice-over by Isabella Rossalini (Blue Velvet and Joy). It's a source of humor and some funny, comedic bits, but mainly it echoes thoughts and feelings that Jessup deftly conveys on his face and body without the need of the redundancy that is Rossalini's voice and words.

Dunn adds some nice flourishes, but, this is in general a coming-of-age film. It's different from the average because it's focused on same-sex attraction. It's anchored by a great performance from Jessup for sure, but the writing of it doesn't however possess the kind of depth one would hope.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations, violent acts and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.


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