Take a dash of Persona, mix it with a dollop of All About Eve, add a big pinch of punk energy, and what do you get? Poser, the debut feature from directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev, who together run the Columbus, Ohio-based production house Loose Films. Shot on location in Columbus, the film chronicles the evolving relationship between a quiet girl attempting to join the city’s underground music scene and the talented singer whom she idolizes. But there’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation, and our (anti-)heroine has seemingly few qualms about crossing it. The result is a fun, tension-filled film that often feels familiar but never fails to entertain.
Painfully shy and awkward Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix, who made a powerful impression on me in the deeply personal horror film Double Walker) longs to become part of the hip underground music scene of Columbus. Seeking to break out of her comfort zone — a refrain of hers throughout the film — she decides to launch a podcast featuring interviews with the local artists she admires. The podcast is her entryway into this colorful, inspirational world; it’s what she decides to do when she gets there that raises some eyebrows.
Lennon soon finds herself entranced by Bobbi Kitten (playing herself), one-half of the experimental witch rock duo Damn the Witch Siren, and a confident, charismatic performer who appears to be everything Lennon is not. Despite thinking Lennon is more than a little weird, Bobbi decides to take her under her wing, teaching her about performance art and encouraging her as a budding songwriter. But it slowly becomes clear — albeit much more slowly for the characters in the film than the audience watching it—that Lennon’s admiration for the music scene has devolved into a dark obsession with being just like Bobbi that borders on dangerous.
The notion of a fan becoming frighteningly, obsessively close to an artist is nothing new. Yet despite it being pretty clear where Poser is going throughout, the film is nonetheless very enjoyable. Dixon and Segev provide a fresh take on a recognizable story by grounding it within an incredibly specific scene and highlighting many of the real-life Columbus-based artists whose music and personalities make it so unique and special. This lends a compelling authenticity to the story that makes it all the more disturbing to watch unfold — not to mention, provides it with a banging soundtrack full of exciting indie artists. It’s just unfortunate that the film winds down to a rather silly ending that feels like a bit of a cop-out, as though the filmmakers didn’t know how else to finish the story.
As Lennon, Mix is excellent, her deceptively quiet performance eliciting empathy and anxiety in equal measure. Even at the very beginning of the film, it’s clear that there’s something slightly off about Lennon; her behavior is strange, but in a way that is eerily familiar if you’ve ever been involved in a local arts scene. Who hasn’t noticed the wallflower hovering on the edge of the dance floor, or even been in that position themselves? Lennon’s entire identity revolves around her proximity to others; even if you haven’t been that person, you probably know that person—and might be a little bit afraid of her yourself.
Throughout the film, Lennon doesn’t find her own voice so much as she learns how to mimic others. There’s a biting, satirical bent to the way Poser portrays such hipster hangers-on, epitomized by Lennon secretly recording some pretentious conversations in an art gallery and then using those exact lines verbatim to try and impress Bobbi later in the movie. When she pulls up Bobbi’s Instagram feed and starts mimicking her body language in the mirror, one cannot help but cringe on her behalf while simultaneously snickering at her almost childlike enthusiasm. That Poser is willing and capable of laughing at itself despite its characters taking everything very seriously is part of what makes it so much fun (especially if, like me, you’ve never really been into podcasts anyway).
Bobbi Kitten is the bright sun around whom Lennon’s life increasingly revolves, and it’s easy to see why. Whether she’s in the midst of one of her energy-filled performances or a member of the audience watching a fellow artist, she immediately draws your attention and holds it — and not just because of her shocking mop of bright pink hair. Even as Lennon starts doing creepy things like showing up at places where she knows Bobbi will be, copying her makeup, and even photographing pages of her songwriting journal when she isn’t looking, there’s a part of you way down deep inside that cannot really blame her. After all, who wouldn’t want to be more like Bobbi Kitten? Poser should elevate her to the superstar status she deserves.
With two fascinating lead performances, wonderful music, and Logan Floyd’s hypnotic cinematography, which captures the revamped industrial spaces and strobing lights of Columbus’ underground venues in a way that makes you wish you were there, there’s a lot about Poser that is worth checking out.
What do you think? Are you a fan of indie artists like the ones featured in Poser? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Poser opened in theaters in Columbus on June 3 and expands to additional cities in the U.S. beginning June 17, 2022.
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