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2023 SXSW Festivals Film Reviews

ASMR crosses into discomfort in Kit Zauhar’s ‘This Closeness’


In interviews past, director Kit Zauhar has mentioned that nice people aren’t interesting on camera, and, really, This Closeness is exactly that mantra in action. 

This Closeness follows couple Tessa (Kit Zauhar) and Ben (Zane Pais) who book an Airbnb to attend Ben’s high school reunion. Unbeknownst to them, they’re sharing that space with the renter’s housemate, the painfully awkward Adam (Ian Edlund). The awkwardness between the three of them are immediately apparent – Tessa and Ben don’t vibe at all with Adam, and the disconnect between the three of them is palpable. To make matters worse, Ben reconnects with an old high school crush, Lizzy (Jesse Pinnick), who further adds discord to the situation. It’s a film that revels in the discomfort of its characters, and succeeds in doing so.

Zauhar, whose previous feature film Actual People was also written, directed, and starred by her, first added the tagline, “mumblecore for Asian Americans,” to that film before rejecting that designation later on. But This Closeness takes some general cues from the hallmarks of a mumblecore film whether explicitly named or not – the low budget, realistic characters, and focus on personal relationships – and applies them here. This Closeness, however, reads much more like a play than it does a film. It’s easy to imagine certain scenes from the film that could just as easily work on stage (the dinner table sequence between Tessa, Ben, and Lizzy comes to mind), especially given that the entire film takes place in one location. One benefit of putting it to the film, however, is just how Zauhar makes the space shrink as the drama reaches a tipping point with her sound design. It’s no coincidence that Tessa creates ASMR videos for her job, when special care is taken to highlight the creaks in the floorboards, the loud bangs of closed doors, and a stuffiness in the inhabited space. As the film goes on, it manifests an intimate, and at times unbearably claustrophobic atmosphere that would be hard to replicate in a stage production.

And let’s also get another thing straight: Tessa and Ben are not the nicest people (see: Zauhar’s comment from above). One of the standout features of the film is the way that Tessa and Ben interact with Adam. Adam, who is immediately singled out as the weird one in the situation (when he’s just a touch socially awkward and lonely), is painted as such in the same way that reality shows are with their guided drama. Ben and Tessa outwardly says one thing, and reveal their true feelings about him to each other in whispers and giggles — far from being model guests in someone else’s home. It’s wonderful seeing the contrasting dynamic between Tessa and Ben versus Tessa and Adam, especially since Adam catches on that he’s being made fun of behind his back. Tessa, as it turns out, is not the sympathetic person that you might be led to believe as well. All of the characters are playing advanced mind games with each other, conniving and making passive aggressive slights at each other until they’re the ones who come out on top.

With its realistic characters, uncomfortable atmosphere, and great chemistry from its leads, This Closeness is a fantastic character study with reality show levels of drama, elevating it from a mumblecore film to something much more. 

Rating: 3.5 /  5

This Closeness was reviewed as part of our SXSW 2023 coverage.

Relevant Pages: IMDb | SXSW page


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