Boasting stellar performances and a singular vision, PVT Chat stands out from a flood of streaming content as something worthy of our time.
In PVT Chat, writer-director Ben Hozie pulls back the curtain on our most private moments to explore our collective longing for connection and recognition. Though his writing ultimately succumbs to the allure of fantasy over reality, the execution of Hozie’s narrative vision is one of the most visceral and exciting depictions of life in the digital age that the world of cinema has seen.
Jack (Peter Vack) is a low-level professional internet poker player on the verge of losing his New York City apartment. Single, socially awkward, and painfully alone, Jack finds comfort and companionship through hiring cam girls he finds online. His interactions range from mundane to highly sexual, but something about one girl — a dominatrix named Scarlett (Julia Fox) — captivates young Jack. His infatuation grows as the sessions continue, leading Jack to believe he has a bond with the woman he’s never met.
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Viewers are introduced to Jack while he’s hunched over his laptop, masturbating to a woman he’s chatting with online. A handheld camera pans over the tiny space Jack occupies and his naked body before lingering on his contorting facial expressions. It’s an abrupt and jarring introduction to the uninhibited world where Hozie’s characters exist that informs the audience of everything they can expect moving forward.
The voyeuristic look and feel of the film emphasize the blurring boundaries of its protagonists. Jack and Scarlet are not people to feel sorry for, nor are they meant to be your new best friends. Their every motivation and insecurity is laid bare to create relatability through a universal sense of discomfort. Hozie exposes human behavior elements that rarely appear in cinema, and he does so with an unflinching eye that demands we acknowledge our true nature. Try as we might to be modest and put together, we’re all profoundly flawed creatures yearning for a sense of happiness none of us feel we deserve, yet we look for it all the same.
When Jack spots Scarlet in a New York bodega near his home, he cannot believe his eyes. While his desperation to legitimize their connection intensifies, PVT Chat pivots to follow Scarlet, and in doing so, provides Fox an opportunity to showcase her range. The Uncut Gems star takes what could easily be a two-dimensional character and makes her seem fully alive, with fears and ambitions that extend far beyond her laptop.
PVT Chat is not a tale of romance with elements of eroticism; it’s an erotic thriller with ruminations on romance. Though the final act succumbs to absurd ideas regarding Jack and Scarlet’s bond’s strength, there is a grit to the film that will linger with viewers long after the credits roll. Hozie has resurrected a rough and tumble style of indie filmmaking that cinema desperately needs. In doing so, he’s given two promising young actors a platform to launch their careers into the stratosphere. This is a film made to make you squirm as if you’re witnessing something you shouldn’t see, but its energy and delivery will keep you hanging on every moment like no other feature in recent memory.