When Oscar Madly was eight years old (Jack Fulton) he suffered a childhood trauma, more than one in fact as not only did his parents, Peter (Aaron Abrams) and Brin (Joanne Kelly) split up, with Oscar putting the blame on the mother he now hated, but one day soon after when he was going home from school he witnessed a crime. He noticed a young man being victimised, and though he didn't quite twig why he instinctively understood it was because of the man's sexuality, and as he watched, wrestling internally with whether he should intervene or not, the victim was murdered with a steel rod by the gang who ran off, never to be caught. This has haunted Oscar ever since, and he finds his only friend worth confiding in is his pet hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini)...
You read that right, the hamster talked in this eccentric but deeply heartfelt coming of age movie from Canada, and not only that but the small furry creature had been living for about ten years before we caught up with Oscar, now played at eighteen by Connor Jessup. By this point he was leaving school, getting a dead end job in a hardware store, but dreaming of capitalising on his skills with makeup and breaking into the movie business. In case you had not realised, this was a semi-autobiographical tale from writer and director Stephen Dunn, his breakthrough feature after a series of shorts, though the more fantastical elements were presumably less true to life than the conflicted emotions his protagonist endured.
There was a lot going on in Connor's mind, and though the film was sympathetic to his confusion, both sexually and otherwise, he could make some very poor choices. Even so, we could see he was guided into these by those around him, and needed to make himself the captain of his own ship before the end credits rolled, but leading up to that was a lot of heartache. One of the chief aspects of that was his relationship with his father: we saw that Connor had a great time with Peter when he was a little boy, but now, call it teenage rebellion, call it seeing his parent for what he really was, it's all gone to pot and they become antagonistic in increasing degrees over the course of the hour and a half it took this to play out.
The trouble with that is Connor has estranged himself from his mother, believing her to be the instigator of all his problems when she left him - abandoned, he obviously believes - ten years ago, though they are still in a loose contact with one another. But he doesn't hate women, his best friend is Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) who he is never happier with than when trying out his elaborate horror makeup on her, yet he even manages to push this good pal away, as if sceptical of how much he needs someone so much of his past when he is aiming to move further on. Will he get a boyfriend, then? Alas, those memories of that murder are poisoning his healthy outlook on sexual intimacy, and he ends up losing his virginity at a party which he finds so traumatic he vomits into the bathroom sink.
Yet he vomits bolts and screws, or that's the way it looks to him as Dunn took on a magic realist, and at times downright weird, approach to his story that made what could have been a series of sad gay person anecdotes into something that was at the very least visually interesting. It could be that the best thing about Closet Monster was that hamster, who poses as Connor's spirit animal; it's highly diverting to see the rodent get on with hamster-y activities while Isabella emotes and comments on the soundtrack. Naturally, we were experiencing the world through the eyes of a troubled teen, he was not psychotic or anything, these were simply his impressions, often like a punch to the gut, of how life was treating him and how he coped with them was to use his imagination, though that was a double-edged sword. As his crush (Aliocha Schneider) lets him down and he pushes everyone away, he is on a downward spiral and you'd be forgiven for thinking a tragic ending was on the cards, but Dunn liked his lead too much for that. Not perfect, but personal enough to translate something of value of its creator's experiences. Music by Todor Kobakov and Maya Postepski.