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  • Writer's pictureKatie Jefferis

You Know That You’re Toxic

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Not a fan of Lukas Dhont’s Close (2022).

It has all the ingredients of a sweet little French film, but none of the subtlety, heart, or personality to make it special. And if it’s meant to experiment with horror film conventions, these attempts are superficial, ineffective, and never truly payoff.

There were a couple of major problems for me.

An awareness of cause and effect seemed completely absent. Because Leo and Remi are best friends, when they start school they appear so close that classmates mock them and call them gay. Leo is so disturbed by how others see him that he over-machismos himself by joining the hockey team and begins ignoring Remi (no attention is paid to how Remi feels about being called gay). Remi cares deeply for his friend and, being a bit confused, does his best to reconnect with Leo. But any attention from Remi toward Leo threatens Leo’s self image so he acts out, ignores their routines, starts fistfights, and pushes his best friend away. Remi suddenly commits suicide, news that is delivered like a plot point, and Leo has literally no reaction. There is no effect on Leo for the next hour of the film.

When a person dies, especially someone so young, so unexpectedly, and so close to you, their absence vibrates through nearly every interaction you have weeks, months, and even years after their passing. Many dramatists know how ghosts linger between human relationships and how to use them for dramatic effect. But Remi, as a presence in the film, is gone as soon as Leo’s mom announces he’s died.

Instead, Lukas Dhont, with his creepy closeups and his fancy lens flares, wants us to sympathize with the angelic-faced “innocent” Leo, who is in no way innocent but a bit scary and seems more and more like a coldhearted jerk as the film progresses. Nevertheless, he is meant to function as our stoic hero — he puts his head down and labors on at the family farm, he gets nicked up on the ice rink and charges back with full force, he has no feelings but he perseveres and... isn’t this exactly what toxic masculinity looks like?

Halfway through the film I decide: Leo is a sociopath. This movie is a horror film. Leo’s intense glares (just look at the poster!) are hostile, menacing, and threaten violence. He has no feelings for his dead friend and now he’s in the forest with a huge stick and about to beat Remi’s mother to a pulp.

So in the end I was left wondering: is this a critique of toxic masculinity or just a reinforcement of its core beliefs? 1/5

—March 26, 2023

Instead I highly recommend Ira Sachs’s Little Men (2016).

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