“A cool and distancing sense of mystery can only take the movie so far, and when it comes time to reveal exactly what it’s been building towards, Poser can’t quite stick the landing.”
by Ken Bakely
To its credit and then its detriment, Ori Segev and Tyler Dixon’s Poser holds its cards close. We’re given very little information about the characters – slightly less, even, than we think we actually have been – as the script steers them into progressively uneasy directions. Where it goes from there shakes this up considerably, to such an extent that it’s hard to feel like the movie has fully earned it (strange, perhaps, when one considers the direct simplicity of its title). The story concerns Lennon (Sylvie Mix), a young woman trying to ingratiate herself to the vibrant indie music scene of Columbus, Ohio. An outsider seeking to belong, she starts a podcast so she can spend time with the artists she seeks validation from, letting them speak and perform almost uninterrupted while she watches and records. One of the personalities she meets is Bobbi Kitten (a real-life Columbus musician playing a fictionalized version of herself), and they strike up a bond. But as time goes on, it becomes clear that something isn’t right. Lennon doesn’t really have a personality of her own, but her ambitions remain as serious and lofty as ever, leading to concerning developments in her increasingly obsessive perception of this confident and successful new person in her life, who has all the things she so desperately seeks.
There’s a lot here that works. In writing these lead characters, Dixon’s script gives Lennon and Bobbi enough interactions to suggest growing closeness, but crucially withholds enough that there’s always something off about how they interact, which provides the opening for the developments that follow. Sylvie Mix and Bobbi Kitten are good in the lead roles, providing a slightly off-kilter dynamic that suggests something close to a real human connection, but invariably scrambled into something far less certain. Their performances are controlled but mysterious in different ways; floating and reserved, all in one scene. It’s the kind of paradox which matches the alternately sharp and hazy atmosphere that Segev and Dixon’s direction provides the film, and Logan Floyd’s cinematography casts the proceedings in: the popping, vibrant colors of clubs and performance spaces are always shrouded in just enough gray and black dimness to provide a convincingly macabre atmosphere. Brief conversations and musical performances alike each gain their own shape and texture, befitting the directing duo’s background in music videos. When it comes to establishing mood and tone, Poser is always engaging and evocative – heightening the increasingly queasy feeling that comes as Lennon continues her audacious but doomed trek through this world.
But a cool and distancing sense of mystery can only take the movie so far, and when it comes time to reveal exactly what it’s been building towards, Poser can’t quite stick the landing. So much is made of the nature of Lennon’s self-interested intentions, and the lengths that she goes to in order to fulfill them, that the film can follow these through to their eventual conclusion and still leave some very pertinent questions unanswered. That we know virtually nothing about Lennon as a person – her backstory is given a few slivers of abstract detail here and there – works early on, in the sense that we don’t need torrents of exposition to set up the film, but it later suggests a movie that’s doing so less as a strategic choice and more as a leap of faith that it doesn’t sustain. We know little more about Lennon by the end, aside from the increasingly audacious actions she undertakes right in front of us, and after a point, this no longer serves the movie, considering the loftier directions it wants to pursue. For a film that hints at bigger observations on art, individuality, and the lines between healthy and unhealthy influence, it needs more space than its slim use of 87 minutes allows to connect its ideas and characters, and to comprehensively explore its themes; as is, it can’t quite arrive at anything it really can hold on to.