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There are two kinds of spectators: those who observe from a distance, and those who somehow try to insert themselves into the original world. Lennon Gates (played by newcomer Sylvie Mix) is someone who fits the latter, and then some. Directing duo Noah Dixon and Ori Segev’s ambitious, dark and compelling feature debut Poser explores the underground music and art scene of Columbus, Ohio through the eyes of young and delusional Lennon. The result blends narrative and reality in a thrilling and potent exploration of the modern concept of art set among underground concerts, highbrow art galleries, and gritty, neon-lit secret parties.
In a staggering performance, Sylvie Mix’s Lennon is a loner and the titular Poser with a lack of personality and originality who lies to get herself immersed in the local indie scene. She’s the kind of person who’d Google “what is performance art” or “how to start a podcast” and go with whatever answer she finds. Working a dead-end restaurant job and with a lack of family life, minus the occasional awkward meals with her more conventional older sister (Rachel Keefe), Lennon spends the majority of her days attending galleries and underground concerts. Except, no one says hi to her, and instead of mingling, she hides behind her phone, recording all the chatter and music around her almost the entire time. It’s her own way of spying on people. Even when she starts a podcast to interview the various indie musicians of Columbus, using flat voiceover and mediocre investigative skills, she writes down most of the lyrics from their music in a journal and is willing to pass some of it off as her own. This further establishes Lennon’s delusional state of mind and lack of ambition in creating her own music.
Through her podcast, we get acquainted with various bands with names such as “Tiny Forks,” “Pencil Weed,” and “Son of Dribble,” who speak and sing passionately straight into the camera. Some of these musicians define their work using genre names such as Indie-Folk, Queer Death Pop, and Junkyard Bob. Her quest to find more content for her podcast soon has her crossing paths with Bobbi Kitten (played by herself), a pink-haired local punk rocker who is the frontwoman of the band “Damn The Witch Siren,” whose music we get a good taste of throughout. Most of the time, she is accompanied by her wordless bandmate Z-Wolf (playing himself), whose intimidating presence is emphasized by the wolf mask he always dons. Her reputation, confidence, and performance skills are what make her the center of Lennon’s attention, which isn’t a good sign. When Bobbi persuades Lennon to perform one of her “original songs” at a party, she stuns with her beautifully melancholic and soothing voice.
Bobbi takes an interest in Lennon as she sees her as a hidden talent who needs to put herself out there more, which seems impossible in Lennon’s case as that could easily expose her as the fraud she is within this tight-knit community. The more time Lennon spends with Bobbi, whether at a minimalist modern art museum or at a concert/party, the more she becomes allured by her infectious energy and takes advantage of her kindness through lies and manipulation in order to keep up her facade. Their kind of relationship is reminiscent of Tom Ripley & Dickie Greenleaf from The Talented Mr. Ripley. After seeing so much through Lennon’s eyes, we are given a sense of Bobbi’s perspective halfway through the film. As truths are exposed and obsessions increase, the story takes a stirring, if somewhat predictable turn.
Poser shies away from common psychological-thriller norms to create something fresh. In their feature debut, Dixon and Segev create a captivating and unique tale of the indie music scene with an ensemble of major and minor characters who (with the exception of Lennon) carry their own meaning of “art.” With dark, dry humor reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch, and slow-burn tension similar to Yorgos Lanthimos, we are immersed in the journey of a detached, uninspired antihero trying to become part of a world that is out of her reach without putting in much effort in the first place. Electrifying breakout performances by Mix and Kitten help turn Poser into a stimulating watch.
– M.J. O’Toole