Review by Sean Boelman
Kit Zahuar’s Actual People was one of the finest indie hidden gems of the last year, so her follow-up — This Closeness — was an exciting prospect. Zahuar managed to top herself, making a film that’s even more personal and awkwardly funny than her last.
The movie follows a young couple who check into a New York City AirBnB, where they begin to clash personalities with their unusual host. It’s a premise that sounds like it could be a great setup for a horror movie, but what we get instead is a restrained, talky, and slightly quirky indie dramedy.
One of the core characteristics of Zahuar’s films is the use of cringe comedy. There’s a tension in the movie that continues escalating until it comes to a head in one of the most hilariously awkward third acts you will see in any film this year. And yet, even though the movie is quite uncomfortable, it never sacrifices its feeling of realism.
Zahuar's work can almost be described like a mumblecore cousin to Cooper Raiff’s films. Like Raiff, Zahuar has an uncanny finger on the zeitgeist of what it means to be on the cusp of the millennial and Gen Z generations. The topics and discussions had in the movie will be intensely relatable to younger viewers.
Zahuar also utilizes character development in a thought-provoking way. The characters are all extremely flawed and often even frustrating, but that is a big part of what makes them charming. The dynamic between the three characters is also very compelling, and Zahuar expands upon it in interesting ways.
The lead couple — Zane Pais and Zahuar — have very solid chemistry together, with a dynamic that is believably at odds with each other. However, the real shining star of the film is Ian Edlund, who gives a lovably (and occasionally hilariously) askew performance as the socially awkward third wheel.
The technical aspects of the movie are also really strong, especially the portions focusing on the protagonist’s creation of ASMR videos. Although the use of sound is more gimmicky than functional, it’s quite effective. Otherwise, the movie is relatively straightforward and confined given that it is entirely set within the one apartment.
This Closeness is a film that is made by one of the most exciting young filmmakers working today. It’s a personal, quirky indie the likes of which we don’t see nearly enough these days, and it will be exciting to see what Kit Zahuar does next.
This Closeness is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.