"I'm your spirit animal."
Buffy the hamster arrives in Oscar Madly's life as he finds out his parents are getting a divorce. Given all that Oscar has to cope with in his brief life, Buffy's ability to speak is very helpful to the young boy.
Closet Monster, the TIFF 2015 Best Canadian Feature, deals primarily with the nearly grown-up version of Oscar, played by 2012 TIFF Rising Star Connor Jessup.
Oscar has to cope with seeing 3 men beat up another man because he was gay, being gay himself especially with a father who is definitely anti-gay, and his closet full of his mother's clothing, even if he isn't wearing the outfits.
He is also fascinated with horror makeup and practices often on his platonic friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). Oscar also meets Wilder (2015 TIFF Rising Star Aliocha Schneider) who awakens his physical desires.
Aaron Abrams is legitimately scary as Oscar's father. The pettiness of the character is revealed without irony or a lack of tone.
Isabella Rossellini, who seems to enjoy starring in Canadian films, is delightful as the voice of Buffy, the hamster. As distracting as a talking hamster might seem to a film, we figure out pretty quick that Buffy's voice is a manifestation to help deal with Oscar's fears.
Stephen Dunn, who wrote and directed his full-length feature debut, brings a complex world hoisted on the shoulders of a 17-year-old. Not your typical coming of age film but more a matter of survival while you figure out a few things. The film is powerful but easy to fall into what is happening. The missing mother comes into view just enough to give us a glimpse as to what might have been if Oscar had lived with his mother.
Closet Monster is set in Newfoundland, filmed in Newfoundland, and writer/director Dunn is from the province. As one older filmgoer said after the screening I attended, "The film was shot in Newfoundland. Where were the Newfie accents?"
We do get a shot of St. John's in the beginning of the film. Mary Walsh, who is obligated to appear in virtually any film made in the area, plays the manager of the home improvement type store. Marthe Bernard, Tinny from Republic of Doyle, appears as a young woman at a party in the film.
We talk about the lack of energy in English Canadian films, but Dunn's film proves to be an exception. No wonder that the film won Best Canadian Feature at TIFF 2015 and was also part of TIFF's annual Canada's Top Ten screening series. The film also played as part of See The North, which ended up only in New York City and New Orleans.
The film has been playing in theatres in Canada as I saw it during my visit to Toronto earlier this month. We could see a U.S. release, either theatre or DVD, in the next 9 months.
video credit: YouTube/FilmTrailerZone