REVIEW: Poser [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 87 minutes
    Release Date: June 3rd, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Oscilloscope
    Director(s): Noah Dixon & Ori Segev
    Writer(s): Noah Dixon

I belong here.

More than a wallflower, Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix) is a voyeur. It’s one thing to listen from afar and process what you’ve heard, but another to record it and absorb it as your own. That’s where her affinity for sound has brought her. What started as collecting ambient noise as though she were an aspiring foley artist has currently spilled over into personality, ideas, and opinions. Rather than learn about topics such as fine art, she attends gallery shows to record people’s pretentiously oblique insights so she can eventually parrot them back elsewhere. And if regurgitating buzzwords and abstractly subjective notions allows her to sound educated about one art form, why not shuffle over to another? Lennon personally likes music and Columbus’s underground scene. Why not infiltrate it?

“Infiltrate” feels a bit too strong since I’m not entirely certain that’s Lennon’s goal. These things snowball quickly, though, especially when the toe you dip in the water gets tugged on by the artists who’ve built that world’s ocean. She’s actually found a perfect in-road combining her compulsion to record with her fantasy to be seen because, for all the lies she tells others (and herself), there’s truth to the canned response about pushing herself outside her comfort zone. Creating a podcast ultimately means selling yourself and owning your actions. Lennon can’t just be sneaking around with her phone out. She must talk to people. She must approach them, solicit their collaboration, and earn their trust. And considering her subjects are as eccentric as her, they willingly comply.

Co-directors Noah Dixon (who also writes) and Ori Segev understand this give and take very well considering they were once newcomers to the same scene Lennon has chosen. They got their start filming music videos for many of the artists showcased in Poser and decided that their feature length debut could use them as its backdrop. The difference, of course, is that they had the talent to back-up their attempts to build this rapport. You can’t even really categorize Lennon as a “fake it until you make it” type because she’s not interested in the work necessary for such sentiments to bear fruit. She simply wants the spoils—to live the life these people are living without facing the fact that her mimicry tactics are insufficiently hollow shortcuts.

We know, though. We see what she’s doing. One interview leads to an up-and-coming band performing their new track. Lennon rerecords it from her phone to cassette (the lo-fi quality just “sounds better” to her) and then plays it repeatedly to write down the lyrics in her journal. And when another interviewee (Abdul Seidu‘s Micah) dares to treat her like a person worthy of conversation, she falls into her habit of giving others what she thinks they want. Suddenly she’s a songwriter too, passing off that other band’s music as her own. Maybe she thinks it’s fine because no one will ever notice, but she’s literally seen how connected this world is. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone listens to everyone. One lie can become both her making and undoing.

Enter Damn the Witch Siren and singer-songwriter Bobbi Kitten (playing a fictional version of herself) and composer Z Wolf (always donning a rubber wolf mask). They’re the cream of this crop—the “get” that could bring Lennon into the fold from the fringes. They also know Micah. He sings her praises. They cajole her into singing “her” song. And they love it. Lennon becomes a member of the inner circle. Her voyeuristic tendencies can now be satiated without subterfuge. They give her everything she’d ever need to walk the walk and talk the talk. So much so that she falls prey to her own lie. Lennon starts believing it is all hers. That she’s earned the chance to become the next Bobbi. We cringe, knowing it can’t last.

Dixon and Segev bring the tragic sense of alienation and mental instability cultivated by low self-esteem to life through Lennon. They’ve gone through the mirror she wields to adopt every affectation and habit of those who “belong” to tell the story of reverse imposter syndrome. Because Lennon is an imposter. And she believes that she isn’t. It makes sense. Her shy part-time busser at an upscale banquet hall has ascended (or descended considering “underground” music) to a level her aimless uncertainty never could on its own. Where someone with more ambition and intent would pivot by leveraging this newfound status and appeal into forging a genuine path forward, however, she doubles down, seemingly oblivious to reality. Bobbi goes from idol to equal overnight. Perhaps inferior is logically next.

Poser isn’t a horror film, though. The marketing push very specifically calls it a psychodrama so audiences don’t anticipate something that isn’t there. Lennon may be a sociopath, but she’s also too introverted to act premeditatively. This journey is about impulse. It’s about reading those around her and proving malleable enough to go with their flow in such a way that they become the ones carrying her forward. Bobbi and Micah are unwittingly creating the monster that is threatening their existence as struggling artists with nothing to their names but their art. They’re feeding Lennon’s desires to the point where this new life becomes something she comfortably shares with her sister and her listeners, ignorant to the risk doing so presents to her façade. The delusion is solidifying.

It’s a captivating premise born atop a lived-in environment the filmmakers know well enough to both exploit what it has to offer (the music is fantastic throughout and sung by their real creators) and dramatize its tenuous construction and open-hearted members. They’ve made a star of both Mix (who they enlisted as an amateur to create a proof of concept before realizing she was perfect for the role) and Kitten (who has since booked more acting work, including John Slattery’s Maggie Moore(s) while continuing her music career) too, the pair’s raw authenticity simultaneously dissolving and reinforcing the lines separating their characters’ opposing existences. And despite knowing the fantasy must come to an end eventually, credit the filmmakers for adhering to the reality that there’s sometimes no turning back.

courtesy of Oscilloscope

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