Review: This Closeness | SXSW 2023

Score: C

Director: Kit Zauhar

Cast: Kit Zauhar, Zane Pais, Jessie Pinnick, Ian Edlund

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rated: NR

This Closeness comes close to being many things: a claustrophobic thriller, a searing relationship drama, and an explicit exploration of desire. But just when you think it will pick a lane, it swerves. Throughout, it remains dull.

Writer-director Kit Zauhar stars as Tessa, a rising star in the ASMR community. In town with her boyfriend Ben (Zane Pais) for his high school reunion, the fun weekend reveals fractures in their relationship, caused by intense distrust and jealousy. There will be no montage of fun. Only lots of yelling, and drinking at their Airbnb.

Adding to the tension is Lizzy (Jessie Pinnick), an overly flirtatious friend of Ben's. A long conversation at the kitchen table between them and Tessa one night unearths bad memories. All of them say hurtful things. The next day Ben acts like an even bigger prick than usual, but Lizzy agrees to shoot an erotically charged video with Tessa. It's the only time the movie really comes alive. Then Lizzy exits the movie and any interest I had along with her.

Observing this all is Adam (Ian Edlund), the quiet loner who rents out his extra bedroom to the shouty couple for the weekend. At first, the film seems like Adam has twisted plans for his guests. But after hearing their intimate moments, he reaches out to Tessa for connection. It's not exactly clear if we're supposed to find his social awkwardness creepy or pitiful. But Tessa seems to enjoy it either way, enraging Ben.

These disparate elements all add up to a whole lot of nothing. None of the characters are relatable or even tolerable. Certainly that's not a requirement for a movie to succeed, and there are some elements that work. Zauhar shoots in long takes, but mistakes emotional rawness for emotional depth. Naked emotions and naked bodies alone do not a compelling film make.

This weekend from hell was unpleasant for me as a viewer, too. An hour-and-a-half with these jerks was more than enough.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.