As a child, Oscar Madley (Connor Jessup) witnesses a brutal hate crime against a gay classmate and the breakdown of his parents' marriage. The horror and guilt from both experiences manifests itself in many different ways throughout Closet Monster. Director Stephen Dunn's Canadian character study examines the trickle-down effects of trauma, how it can fester over time and eventually hollows out the most creative of individuals.
Now 18, Oscar is determined to leave his broken family and small town life behind and attend college for cinema makeup in New York City. While designing elaborate fantasy tableaus for his portfolio he experiences nightmares that blend horror imagery with frightening visuals from his past. Such a hyper-dream state directly correlates with Oscar's own burgeoning sexual awakening that causes an even deeper rift with his homophobic father (Aaron Abrams).
Closet Monster puts its lead character through the ringer. Oscar isn't so much confused about his sexuality—the second he meets a new co-worker named Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) sparks fly—but tortured by the changes such a revelation might bring to his life.
Jessup's dedicated and honest performance manages to sidestep pitfalls usually associated with the classic suffering teenager, but the film itself stylizes his mental instability in conflicting ways. One second Oscar will be speaking with his pet hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), the next he'll be imagining a piece of rebar protruding through his stomach.
With its surrealist treatment of gay identity and hothouse take on familial melodrama, Closet Monster, which opens Friday, Oct. 14, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, inevitably feels like a precious carbon copy of Xavier Dolan's work. The film shows its reductive true colors in the final moments when Oscar's absent mother delivers a strangely insensitive hot take: "You've never had it easy." Jessup's tormented character deserves worthier parents, and a more singular movie.
American Honey: Andrea Arnold’s sprawling drama follows a group of disaffected youth who travel around the United States selling magazines and causing havoc.
Closet Monster: During his senior year of high school, Oscar (Connor Jessup) confronts the realities of his past and how it relates with his burgeoning sexuality. Screens through Thursday, Oct. 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Desierto: A group of people trying to cross the border encounters a racist man who begins tracking their every move.
Kevin Hart: What Now?: The latest taped comedy special from Kevin Hart gets the big-screen treatment.
La Costa Film Festival: Actor Chris Noth (Law and Order) will be honored at this year’s annual even in North County, which will also showcase feature and short films from San Diego and around the country.
Long Way North: A determined Russian debutante decides to escape the safe confines of her palace life for an adventure to the North Pole in search of her missing explorer grandfather. Screens through Thursday, Oct. 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Passage to Mars: A group of NASA astronauts live for six months on an experimental training vehicle in the Arctic to prepare for an eventual mission to Mars. Screens through Thursday, Oct. 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Accountant: Ben Affleck’s brilliant numbers man considers the complexities of our tax code while doubling as a hit man for the government.
The Battle of Algiers: One of the most important political films of all time traces the assassinations, political jockeying and terrorist attacks that define Algiers under French colonial power. This is a 50th anniversary restoration presented by Rialto Pictures.
One Time Only
The Lair of the White Worm: When a Scottish archeologist discovers the skull of an ancient beast, mysterious disappearances start occurring in a small country town. Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at San Diego Art Institute.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Audrey Hepburn plays a New York City socialite who becomes romantically interested in a new neighbor. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, Oct. 13 to 15, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Spirited Away: Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is about a young girl who ventures into a world of gods and monsters after moving to the suburbs. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, and 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 at Ken Cinema.
The Exorcist: In this classic horror film from director William Friedkin, a teenage girl becomes possessed by a demonic spirit, forcing her mother to contact a Catholic priest for help. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, at Arclight La Jolla Cinemas.
Jerry Maguire: An arrogant sports agent (Tom Cruise) is fired from his cushy job and forced to reassess his methods and principles. Screens at 6 p.m. at Oceana Coastal Kitchen in San Diego.
Edward Scissorhands: Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder star in Tim Burton’s fable about an outsider who experiences ridicule from the residents of his small town. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.