Finding a sense of belonging is built into the core of human existence. In Poser, the debut feature from filmmakers Noah Dixon and Ori Segev, we delve deep into the underground art and music scene of Columbus, Ohio to explore the story of a twenty-something woman who desperately wants to fit in and discovers just how far she will go in order to do so. While it is not an overt horror film, the voyeuristic nature of the main character and the mood that the directing duo creates definitely flirt with the boundaries of psychological horror. Just one step to either side of the spectrum could easily push this film into the same realm as films like Lucky Mckee’s May, or Barbet Schroeder’s classic Single White Female.
Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix) works a pretty mundane job in the service industry, but her passion lies in the underground art and music scene. While attending indie art shows and concerts at unconventional music venues, she records things from the events that she finds interesting on her phone. She records it all digitally, but to her analog just sounds better, so she then re-records it all onto cassette and catalogs it in her home. Something about the way that she meticulously curates her collection of voyeuristic media reminds me a lot of the title character of Patrick Kack-Brice’s Creep. Lennon is a quiet and unassuming person that really doesn’t stand out anywhere that she goes and just sort of blends into the background of all these events. In order to push herself out of her comfort zone, she decides to turn the hobby of recording people into a podcast. Deciding that she will focus on local artists and musicians, she begins to book interviews and build connections with those in the art community.
Early on, Lennon can be seen writing the poems and lyrics of musicians in her journal, but it isn’t evident yet why she is compiling these pieces when she has already recorded them. It isn’t until she interviews and records a local poet that you see her start to share her song ideas and downplay the praise that is showered upon her for her lyrical vision, all the while knowing that she has just copied the songs of other bands that she has interviewed and passed them off as her own. That’s kind of the double-edged sword of being an indie artist, that you might have produced some amazing material, but unless you’re in that scene others probably haven’t heard it.
You probably have that one friend in your life that is always on the cutting edge of new music, art, or films. They’re probably always telling you how they liked a band before they got big and sold out, or that they saw that new film last year when it played the festival circuit. I’m definitely holding up a mirror as I write this because I am not so blind that I can’t see myself in these statements. I’m a film critic and it’s my job to watch new stuff and recommend it to the appropriate audiences. Poser is full of those archetypal characters, but the film is able to critically examine and poke fun of the very community that it is examining. At times during Lennon’s band interviews, the film feels like a pitch-black comedy with the absurdity of how bands describe their genre.
As Lennon makes more connections in the scene, she eventually crosses paths with one of her idols in underground music: Bobbie Kitten. Kitten is the real life frontwoman of Columbus’ dance and electronic duo Damn the Witch Siren and along with her bandmate Z Wolf, who appears in the film exclusively wearing a wolf mask, play versions of their real world personas in the film. I know that she is supposed to be this way for the story of the film, but Bobbie Kitten is intoxicating. She exudes confidence and radiates an energetic presence that makes you want to just be around her and it’s those traits that end up drawing Lennon into her circle. It becomes clear to Kitten that Lennon has a lot of artistic talent that is hiding behind a shy persona and a fear of failure and as she befriends Lennon, those barriers begin to fade away allowing Lennon to share some of her lyrics and songs.
Poser never tries to mislead you about the direction that the film is going and that is one of the things that worked for me. Some might call the plot predictable, but the performances by Bobbie Kitten and Sylvie Mix are so honest and grounded that it makes the climax of the film even more heartbreaking. I really felt for Lennon as I just wanted her to be able to find the home that she wanted, but at the same time, I couldn’t help lamenting every bad decision she made along the way. I don’t want to speak for all viewers because maybe you are the Bobbie Kitten of your scene, but I can definitely relate to Lennon wanting to fit in with cool kids, but never really finding my own style or confidence. Maybe this is one of the aspects of the film that really drew me in, but the authenticity of the character portrayal really sealed it for me.
Some viewers prefer to have a very linear story where the writers and directors have a very specific ideal that they want to get across, while others sort of play in the shadows and dance around a suggestion, but ultimately leave the viewer to decide what that outcome should be. I’m more of a fan of the latter, and Poser really left me with a lot of questions about acceptance and belonging in general. I found myself wondering if the art scene itself created Lennon. Nothing about the portrayal of the scene seemed welcoming to an outsider and I kept thinking, all of the problems in the film could have been avoided if those in the scene had made Lennon feel like she could just be herself. On the flip side, we didn’t really get to see Lennon try that approach, and maybe she would’ve just been accepted for who she really was. Either way, I believe it really showed just how intimidating it can be trying to find your place in the world.
Poser’s underground aesthetic was captured wonderfully by cinematographer Logan Floyd and as someone who is relatively familiar with the city of Columbus, I felt like I got to experience an entirely foreign side of the city. While it wasn’t intended to cater to hardcore horror buffs, the atmosphere and relatability of the characters will surely be familiar for those who have traveled in the art and music scenes of their communities. Paired with exceptional performances by Mix and Kitten, Poser is a powerhouse of a debut feature from Dixon and Segev and I am eager to see what their next project will be.
Poser was screened as part of Nightstream 2021.