This piece was written during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA 2023 strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the films covered here would not exist.Film festivals like Sundance and TIFF may list Academy Award hopefuls, but Fantasia has always delivered a slate of films that leave an indelible mark on their audience. It oozes a variety of movies—no matter how twisted or wacky they are—like the smell of bar smoke or cat hair that clings to couches long after the cat is gone. Films should be revolutionary in the way they explore human emotions. They should take these worldly emotions that plague us all and twist them into something that makes you question your relationship with yourself. Poker is one of those movies.
Sadness is a familiar feeling, both on and off screen, and with the debut of her feature, Mary Dauterman See grief through the lens of body horror. Body horror is the perfect category to use to explore how grief – when ignored – can change the body and eat away at the human soul. Horror is, perhaps, the best kind to release emotions like sadness, because it normalizes those imperfect, disgusting, and grotesque emotions. It’s safer to think about our own sadness as we watch someone slowly spiral out of control and turn into a cat than to watch them strip naked in broad daylight like watching Arthur Miller Play.
Poker is as gutsy (and not only because there is a lot of retching) as it is safe; Always just toeing the line of what is expected. And that, in its own right, feels right for the movie. Grief may be an emotion that we all experience at different points throughout our lives, but we all deal with it differently, and grief manifests in our own unique ways. In fact, the conflict between how people grieve after a tragedy is a point of contention for Anna (Grace Glowicki) and Max (Garrick Bernard) as they think of Izzy’s (Sofia Dobrushin) death.
‘Booger’ takes its time
Dauterman’s script carefully draws the audience into the strange and unsettling story of tragedy. It felt light at first. Through the vertical lens of digital retrospection, we learn about the day the cat distribution system gave Booger a gift to Anna and Izzy. But the abstract memories slowly turn into something more hairy when the present day reveals Izzy’s absence in Anna’s life.
Absence is a curious word to use to describe Izzy’s loss because it seems like everyone around Anna—even strangers—feels her loss more deeply than she lets herself. Instead of dealing with the death of her roommate and friend, she deals with Booger’s sudden absence. Booger is Izzy’s cat, and when he slips out the window, Anna focuses all her energy on finding him. His disappearance is compounded by the bruises he left on Anna’s hand while beating her. This event casts a longer shadow than other elements of the film, especially by finding a neat parallel with the wounds that Izzy’s death left in Anna. Instead of healing the wounds, she focuses on the unattainable, to her own detriment. It’s an interesting way to visualize tragedy, and when paired with larger-than-life body horror, it makes for a very compelling film.
Glowicki is an exceptional lead as she navigates through a kind of odyssey into the unknown depths of grief. She had nothing to return, leaning into the stupidity of coughing furs and cans of cat food. The delightfully dark humor is never on the nose—and while some of that success is due to the script, the credit really belongs to Glowicki for making it work. Her physical transformation as the film progresses is very interesting to watch. You can see it in her soft eyes, the way her balance changes when she walks, and the way she exudes the wild innocence that a house cat has. It’s like a masterclass of things Maria Ouspenskaya pioneer with animal work.
You can feel the feminine—and feline—touch that Dauterman brings to this script, and it’s a feeling that resonates throughout the film. Oftentimes, stories that use transformation as a physical manifestation of some kind of mental illness lean toward its brutal masculinity. Bones will break, spines will twist, and horrifying canine maws will break through the teeth of civilized men. It’s cruel, in the way men are cruel and destructive. Anna’s transformation, though grizzly in her own unique way, is like a festering wound on her hand. She feels the change, the loss of time, and unusual behavior, but even as she destroys the elements of her life – she is hurting herself, not others. When she lashed out and drew blood, her violent actions came back to haunt her. Poker It may upset the stomach when it comes to hairballs, but it certainly coughs up enough introspective curiosity to induce nausea.
in time, Poker Can feel chaos like sadness as it passes through the darkness. As Anna spirals out of control, Dauterman uses different visual styles to evoke certain emotions – some are executed better than others. The script is very consistent in the way it makes grief seem for different members of its cast, although Anna’s grief is not as realized as it could be. Her final transformation is underwhelming and rarely earned, although, from a certain point, maybe that’s the point. Tragedy comes as soon as it leaves, and if accepting its existence is the biggest battle, perhaps its sudden end is exactly what was intended. We remove the layers of grief in waves, only to be left with loss.
Dauterman’s feature debut is a must-see for horror connoisseurs who like horror films that make them think, even if that kind of scrutiny isn’t so calm. Poker A bold and refreshing journey into grief and the dangerous effects of holding it in when it wants to escape.
- Poker A transformative film that explores grief through the lens of body horror, making imperfect and abject emotions feel normal.
- The film shows grief in its own unique way, showing the conflict between how people grieve after a tragedy.
- “Booger” is a bold and refreshing journey into tragedy, featuring an exceptional lead performance by Glowicki and a feminine touch that resonates throughout.
Poker It had its world premiere at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival.