There would be a chill in the air even if the window of the AirBNB rental that Tessa (Kit Zauhar) and Ben (Zane Pais) have booked for the weekend in “This Closeness” wasn’t left ajar to accommodate an air conditioner. As Ben is quick to note, this entire setup wasn’t mentioned in the listing, already a not his first choice of accommodations for a return to Philadelphia for his high school reunion and his complaints have no obvious recipient when Lance (Ian Edlund), the main tenant of the place has left to take care of his ailing mother, making his roommate Adam responsible for any issues that come up, though getting him to fix anything seems unreasonable when he had nothing to do with putting the apartment up on AirBNB.
It’s the simple things that present problems in Zauhar’s razor-sharp second feature, which overcomes them itself as a single-location relationship comedy that plays the angles as well in its plotting as its visuals. You might wonder why Tessa and Ben are a couple when the mild inconvenience of a drafty rental reveals pretty quickly that they are less likely to help each other through a moment of panic than to start poking each other in ways that will make it worse. Tessa isn’t one to immediately give air to these things, though she does lead a somewhat lead a somewhat public life with a following on YouTube and privately, Ben is the more outgoing of the two, looking forward to raising a little hell with his high school friends when the forward-facing Tessa can’t really see the point. Besides Adam, an irreparably awkward gamer who wouldn’t come out of his room if he didn’t have to deal with the couple, Tessa and Ben are a bit unmoored by the presence of Lizzy (Jesse Pinnick) a former classmate of Ben whose attire prompts him to ask, “Are you a full-time slut now?” careful to clarify he means it in “an empowered way,” upsetting her less than his current partner.
Clashes are bound to happen despite the millennial quartet’s respect for boundaries, with Adam going so far to arrange the shelves in the fridge for “guest” and “host” and it gives plenty of room for Zauhar to examine why people stay in bad situations – most obviously, an AirBNB arrangement that no one would want, but larger ones in each of the characters’ lives. The writer/director and cinematographer Kayla Haff show a real verve for blocking scenes to present the fraught relationship dynamics at play and Zauhar has an strong ear for passive aggression, with Tessa and Ben often cloaking what they really want to say in more casual conversation. Beyond defying what story expectations might come from the limited setting, “This Closeness” shows a refreshing willingness to push the envelope stylistically, both in its striking compositions and in its sound design, taking inspiration from the ASMR work that pays the bills for Tessa and the camera genuinely becomes an instrument to capture what the characters can’t see for themselves as it fulfills its own full potential and leaves its subjects wondering what theirs is.
“This Closeness” will screen at SXSW on March 12th at 5:30 pm at Violet Crown Cinema 2 and 6 pm at Violet Crown Cinema 4 and March 15th at 11:15 am at Alamo Lamar B.