PVT Chat

by Alex Kirschenbaum Jan 24, 2021

From the moment we first encounter unwell online gambler “Blackjack” Jack (Peter Vack), he is a cheerful loose cannon. In this case, it is while he is in the middle of getting his nightly kicks on an internet sex chat site. He has found his way into a video conversation with buxom black leather-clad dominatrix Scarlet (Julia Fox), who per his instruction verbally undresses a nude Jack, coaching him to an orgasmic climax in the dark of his tiny New York apartment, while writer/director/cinematographer/editor Ben Hozie’s fish-eye lens hovers over him.

Jack is the mad antihero at the heart of PVT Chat, scheduled for theatrical release on February 5th before premiering on VOD and streaming platforms on February 9th through Dark Star Pictures. The film is currently screening as part of the Dark Star Virtual Festival, a free online event courtesy of Dark Star and Bloody Disgusting, streaming through this evening.

Vack brings a madcap frantic energy and wholly misplaced self-confidence to Jack. This restless young man is driven in all things by luck and chance, and views his life as a series of dissociative transactions. He hems and haws about whether or not to purvey an illicit massage parlor, then leaves his attendance up to the flip of a coin. He tries to talk other “cam girls” into playing online poker with him, as his remote erotic encounters with them devolve into soul-searching therapy sessions. He counts on his gambling skills to cover his rent, and occasionally they desert him, much to his landlord Henry (Atticus Cain)’s chagrin. He dreams of developing disturbing web apps that allow people to hear each other’s thoughts from around the world, and spins detailed lies about a fantasy life as a tech whiz to impress women he pays to listen to him lustfully. Jack is a dark construct of the modern era when our tale begins. 

Over the course of the movie, though, we realize that Jack, almost despite himself, actually does want to forge human connections. He’s just somewhat particular. And suddenly, what started off as a modern tweak of a creepy Taxi Driver or One Hour Photo-type thriller for the digital age undergoes a surprisingly lighthearted metamorphosis into becoming a playful dark comedy. PVT Chat makes a bold choice in not being a long depressive swirl down a proverbial digital drain of disconnection, and striking a wholly unexpected second-half tone.

Soon Jack finds himself running into his virtual crush in a Chinatown bodega — a surprise to him, as Scarlet claimed to live in San Francisco. 

Still reeling from this perceived duplicity, he attends a new gallery show from his installation artist ex-girlfriend Emma (Nikki Belfiglio), with two uncouth new friends Will (Kevin Moccia) and Larry (Buddy Duress) in tow. Larry is fresh out of prison, though his sins remain unknown to us. Later, Jack and Emma head back to her bare-bones apartment, where a flat broke Jack talks Emma into supplying the wine. With Emma temporarily out, an addicted Jack hops onto the sex chat site, where he reconnects with Scarlet.

Scarlet claims the other woman is a doppelganger, and that she has never been to New York. Emma returns to the apartment, wine in hand, where she hears in the midst of a hot and heavy camera session with Scarlet. He abandons Emma to conclude his conversation.

In a desperate get-rich-quick scheme, Will and Larry convince Jack to use his erratic internet gambling expertise to turn $10,000’s worth of seed money (with $5,000 a piece from Will and Jack), in combination with  into a semester’s worth of college tuition money for Will’s son.

As you’ll no doubt recall, Fox was the breakout starlet from another exercise in cinematic discomfort, Uncut Gems (2019), where she played a similar object of desire for a similarly inveterate gambler. She was also a real-life dominatrix — while still in high school. Fox has a naturally inviting comportment onscreen. Her complicated character work in PVT Chat is further proof that Fox belongs in as many nervy Manhattan thrill rides as they’re willing to shoot.

With time, we discover that, unlike her ditzy showroom saleswoman character in Gems, Fox’s Scarlet is a woman of hidden depths. She dabbles in pretty good abstract painting on the side. She also very well could be in New York (her accent should really have been the tip-off for Jack even before her saw her in the bodega, but no matter), and may be guarding a surprising motivation behind her cam girl phase.

Prepare yourself, dear viewer. This film is… pretty explicit. As indeed its subject probably demands it be. But rather than an explosive Taxi Driver finale, PVT Chat wants to take us somewhere else entirely. A story that could have ended in violence and ruin instead becomes almost a romantic wish fulfillment fantasy, with a small helping of ruin on the side. Some narrative threads are left to dangle in this pivot, but in the moment, we don’t mind much.

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