A Close Encounter, directed by Adam Linkenheldt, is an absurd comedy that twists and turns from beginning to end. The film centers around Thomas (Douglas Olsson), an older man, and Ashley (Rachael Alig), a younger woman, who meet on a flight to Miami. They hit it off, bonding over awkward encounters with an oblivious passenger (Jordan Preston) and the flight attendant (Ana-Marija Stojic). Thomas invites Ashley back to his house where they call her mother, Regina (Rebecca Ritz), only to discover more about each other and the nature of their relationship. A Close Encounter excels in its set design, use of space, and in elements of its writing, but falls short of creating a sufficiently hilarious or moving story. The film is certainly entertaining, but feels a little rushed and far-fetched in the second half, especially during and after the key revelation.
A Close Encounter, above all else, is well constructed. Both the comedic writing and technical aspects are strong. The scenes on the plane play into the awkwardness of travel and unconscientious passengers: the short-lived crossing of paths between people of different backgrounds and futures. There are some funny verbal and visual moments that ingratiate the viewer to the characters and introduce us to their peeves and flaws. The writing is underpinned by good performances from Olsson and Alig, who deliver lines well with timing and personality. Their chemistry is necessary for the film to work, and they certainly keep their side of the bargain.
The choice of locations are exceptional, both the plane and the house settings feel like three-dimensional and distinctive spaces. The mood lighting in the house is also effective and plays into some of the misdirection at the heart of the film. The fades between scenes do not always appear as seamless as they should, but they still give the film the drifting and ethereal impression that comes along with a new found relationship with someone. The cinematography (Chris Gosch) is effective, shots are well framed, and there is a good use of close-ups to emphasize the subtle connections between the characters.
This being said, the film struggles with its narrative flow and the reveal, on which the film hinges. It feels mishandled and the reactions disproportionate to the weightiness of its revelation. Without spoiling the film, the construction of the moment—that being how the characters end up finding out the key information—stretches suspension of disbelief and the aftermath is over-trivialized. Though designed for comedic effect, the final scene is a little too inconsistent to have either the emotional or comedic impact required. The tone suffers as the actors continue in largely the same vein as before – despite distressing news. The film might have been improved if the moment was lengthened, with the characters having more genuine surprise or alarm before reverting back to the comedy.
A Close Encounter is a technically sound and well performed short film that attempts to find hilarity in an uncomfortable situation. This is achieved with mixed success. The writing is typically snappy and fast-moving, with there being good back-and-forth between Thomas and Ashley during the scenes on the plane. There is also some good visual comedy, which depicts the maneuvers, mishaps and interruptions that occur when in tight proximity to other members of the general public. Nevertheless, the film loses its way as it struggles to deal with the ramifications of its twist and suffers from a lack of emotional depth as the characters seem unable to shift gears between comedy and drama.