Fantasia Film Festival 2020 Review: ‘PVT Chat’

by Nick Kush
PVT Chat

I’ve learned something about myself over the last few years: I have a serious soft spot for grimy, street-level New York City movies. (“It’s almost another character in the movie!”) Anyone who frequents this website knows my unabashed, overbearing love for anything from the Safdies, my choice for the current Kings of New York-centered filmmaking. There’s just something about the bustling streets combined with a grainy, often handheld camera filming with a DIY spirit that excites me. Does that make me a nerd? Probably.

In a lot of ways, I’m most likely the target audience for Ben Hozie’s PVT Chat, which seems to stick the works of the Safdies and Josh Mond in a blender, combine them with a lot of explicit sexual acts, and ultimately using provocative, cringe-inducing storytelling to drive at very human problems.

Jack (Peter Vack) is a 20-something without much of a purpose. He’s the kind of city dweller who’s always the first to critique capitalistic greed and yuppie culture, but it’s only to shield the fact that he doesn’t have much direction himself. His “job” is playing online blackjack, and he spends most nights on a camgirl site interacting with a dominatrix named Scarlet (Julia Fox) he believes is from San Francisco. Although their relationship starts as very one-way (Jack gives Scarlet many tips during their sessions), they begin to connect, albeit with a heaping spoonful of toxicity as Jack often lies about his wealth and status to impress her — he claims he’s a tech entrepreneur on the verge of building the next big thing. His obsession with Scarlet amps up when he sees Scarlet on the New York streets.

These events and those that ensue are a dual look at loneliness in an online world. Frustratingly, PVT Chat seems to think Jack and Scarlet are on equal footing by the end, even though Jack’s actions and mental state are considerably more troubling. The film’s explicit sex scenes also have a tendency to detract from the more thoughtful personal drama surrounding them. (There’s no question PVT Chat is headed for an NC-17 rating…and an army of Reddit bros who’ll clip out scenes and repost them without their depressing context.) Regardless, Hozie’s work is highly provocative and properly gloomy, aided by great performances from Vack and Fox in the lead roles, and is also a solid entry into the contemporary canon of self-loathing, low-budget NYC cinema.

Plus, any movie featuring Buddy Duress is a win in my book.

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