Closet Monster ****
Starring: Connor Jessup, Aaron Abrams, Joanne Kelly, Sofia Banzhaf, Aliocha Schneider, Isabella Rossellini
Director: Stephen Dunn
Rarely is a person's sexual awakening easy, but for LGBT people, this comes with the whole added baggage of coming to terms with the identity society affords your sexuality. The proverbial "closet" in which most people begin is a vessel of containment that feels safe, but nobody can live happily within it in perpetuity. The closet is constructed by all the barriers that prevent someone from living a true version of themselves and for every LGBT person, there is more than just one barrier. And for Oscar, the eighteen year-old protagonist of the indie coming-of-age drama Closet Monster, the closet in which he finds himself is a miasma of complexities, interweaving internal and external obstructions that he is unable to see past.
Oscar (Jessup) grows up the child of a messy divorce. His father (Abrams), with whom he lives, has been broken by the desertion of his mother (Kelly) and is more concerned with holding his grudge than wanting the best for his son. After witnessing a savage attack on a gay teenager, Oscar is told by his father the boy had deserved the beating and as a result, Oscar retreats into a fantasy world, where his pet hamster, Buffy, speaks to him (Rossellini) and he can dress up his best friend Gemma (Banzhaf) with monster makeup. But when he meets the enigmatic Wilder (Schneider), he is unable to deny the feelings he has been suppressing since childhood.
At the heart of the film, Oscar is a compelling lead. Emotive but repressed, Jessup brings an identifiable vulnerability to the young boy whose sexual awakening has believably evolved without any connection to the wider world. He is a typical teenage boy; angsty, reflective and wistful, he maintains the childish authenticity in his hobbies and relationships, which are only chipped away at when he begins to realise the constraints in existence around him. And this manifests itself as physical visceral pain.
Any "closet" exists as a metaphor and for Oscar, his closet is the inability to separate homosexuality from the savage attack he witnessed as a child. He sees himself as the victim; beaten, unconscious and penetrated with a bloody iron rod. This terrifying perceived future is something he is trying to flee from, hiding behind the detritus of his childhood - toys, models, his hamster. Rossellini is inspired casting as the voice of Buffy, who is peculiar, quirky but sane. At times, it seems that even Oscar's subconscious is reasoning with him to come to terms with himself, as this voice in his head will not allow him to hide forever. And sure enough, once the floodgates open, it is not a trickle but a deluge that is released.
Visually, this is a film that plays on the innocence of boyhood. It is no coincidence that at the moment Oscar is confronted with his adulthood, he and the revellers at the party around him are dressed like creatures from Where The Wild Things Are. His treehouse is almost mythic in its size and decoration. His friendship with Gemma is exclusive and resembles their own secret society. But always there are elements of the outside world, invading the fringes with the pains and misery of adulthood that Oscar is unable to face. In his denial, Oscar is Peter Pan, but in facing reality, Oscar is weak and feeble. At least until he can face it head on.
As a film about sexual awakenings, Closet Monster is commendable in its focus not on the mechanics of sexuality, but instead on its ramifications. If sex really is the "loss of innocence", Oscar is refusing to lose it. Often, people complain that children are growing up too soon, but it's easy to forget that for LGBT people, the responsibility that comes with this awakening can be too terrifying to face up to until much later. Closet Monster perfectly reflects this, as well as laying down the inevitability that it cannot be hidden from forever. That closet has to be opened, even if there is a monster inside.