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This Closeness

In a big city, avoiding eye contact is a survival tool. Looking at the floor, looking down and to the left, a thousand-yard stare that looks straight through whoever is cramming their body into your personal space at that moment: all are necessary to maintain some level of dignity in crowded spaces. The characters in “This Closeness” have mastered the art of never looking each other in the eyes—which is a social anxiety thing, yes. But it also gives away the fact that this is a New York movie.

The cramped apartment setting is another clue, as well as the roommate cringe comedy (a classic NYC indie theme). Although it was made by New Yorkers, technically, it takes place in Philadelphia, in an Airbnb-type rental where visiting couple Ben (Zane Pais) and Tessa (Kit Zauhar) are sharing unexpectedly close quarters with Adam (Ian Edlund), the weirdo who lives there. They’re using Adam’s dishes and eating at his kitchen table; when he comes out of the shower, he passes through the living room in a towel as Tessa looks (where else?) at the floor. 

That’s a type of intimacy. So is the relationship between Ben and his childhood friend Lizzie (Jessie Pinnick), who don’t see each other that often but share a deep personal history. Ben and Tessa are in town for Ben’s high school reunion, and Tessa is feeling insecure seeing a side of her boyfriend that isn’t accessible to her. They have their own intimacy as a couple, of course, although they can be quite mean to one another. That implies another form of intimacy: knowing exactly what to say to hurt someone. 

There are many shades of closeness and distance. Sexual intimacy is different from the intimacy of putting someone to bed when they’re drunk, for example. Both are vulnerable positions to be in, but one changes the course of a relationship, and the other doesn’t. “This Closeness” carefully considers, if not all of these forms, enough of them to paint a thoughtful portrait of urban alienation. At first, Zauhar’s project for the film isn’t obvious, but once it clicks into place, the movie becomes a richer experience. 

One element that sets “This Closeness” apart is its interest in Tessa’s job as an ASMR YouTuber. In practice, it’s a lot of clicking your nails on things, but a scene where Tessa demonstrates how she uses a microphone to create tingly feelings is fascinating in a procedural way. This movie definitely believes in ASMR and portrays Tessa’s abilities as near-magical; it’s the one time it gets even slightly surreal, using horror-movie music and rhythmic breathing on the soundtrack to alter the audience’s consciousness. 

Early scenes of Tessa and Ben bickering seem to be setting up a movie that’s just dysfunctional people arguing—a common schtick that gets old quickly. Adam’s apartment is a blank, personality-less space; that makes sense for this story, as it avoids distracting from the dialogue and performances. But the downside of this minimalism is that any weaknesses in the ensemble really stand out. This is most noticeable in a handful of airless interactions between Pais and the other actors; to be fair, his character is supposed to be intolerable, but the seconds pass slowly, nonetheless. 

Edlund, meanwhile, grows into what turns out to be a complex role, as “This Closeness” gives Adam more interiority than just being a punchline. He’s lonely and doesn’t know how to express his needs; as a result, he does some desperate things that don’t make a lot of sense and could come off as creepy if Zauhar calibrated the tone differently. She doesn’t, though. Instead, she extends an empathetic understanding that everyone is a soft, vulnerable animal deep down. Even your weird Airbnb host.

Katie Rife

Katie Rife is a freelance writer and critic based in Chicago with a speciality in genre cinema. She worked as the News Editor of The A.V. Club from 2014-2019, and as Senior Editor of that site from 2019-2022. She currently writes about film for outlets like Vulture, Rolling Stone, Indiewire, Polygon, and RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

This Closeness movie poster

This Closeness (2024)

88 minutes

Cast

Kit Zauhar as Tessa

Zane Pais as Ben

Ian Edlund as Adam

Jessie Pinnick as Lizzy

Director

Writer

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