PVT Chat is a moody indie thriller from 2020 dealing with the alienating effects of online sex work through both sides of the screen. Set against the backdrop of grimy isolated apartments, the film ditches the eroticism quotient and exposes the visceral underbelly of romance in the camgirl age. The Blu-ray from Darkstar Pictures and OCN Distribution presents the film with an excellent A/V package and loads of bonus features. Recommended.
“Unfortunately, slaves don’t get to experience this.”
PVT Chat is a melancholy critique of modern romance in the digital age, where our lives play out in a delicate balance between relationships and desires. The people we meet along the way who have the most significant impact are rarely the easiest to define. Filmmaker Ben Hozie successfully explores addiction, loneliness, and yearning in the digital age. Using handheld photography, he is able to express the sheer desperation and bleak existence of our characters in their cluttered settings. It’s a refreshingly honest and raw portrait of love in the time of online sex work.
The film sees internet gambling addict Jack (Peter Vack, Someone Great), whose obsession with camgirl dominatrix Scarlet (Julia Fox, Uncut Gems) becomes the unraveling of his life. Ultimately, Scarlet’s dominatrix appearance shields a rocky personal life once her vulnerabilities are exposed, putting the vixen in an awkward position of taking a life-changing risk. Set against NYC's dirty and grimy arthouse apartments, PVT Chat ditches romanticism for a raw and unflinching visual tone. It feels like a story by Abel Ferrara through the lens of early Soderbergh.
Performances are compelling and memorable from Peter Vack and Julia Fox. Peter can balance the faux naivete by hiding a sullen confidence. On-screen, he resembles an emotionally stunted ghost brimming with anger under tired eyes and errant strands of hair cascading over his pale face. I wouldn’t consider PVT Chat sleazy or seedy, even when Jack is in session with Scarlet, but there is plenty of nudity and unsimulated self-pleasure. We get to see Scarlet topless quite a bit throughout the film, but Jack’s scenes are more explicit, with him masturbating on screen more than once. Hozie keeps these moments raw and in the context of the scene but never exploitative.
What makes Julia Fox’s performance so magnetic isn’t an over-the-top sexualized character but her restraint in keeping Scarlet elusive and at a distance during her cam sessions with Jack. The sparse backdrop dotted with shelves of sex toys is all we really see. She commands her space while letting small moments of her charisma peek through the leather. Do you remember Debby Harry’s scenes in Videodrome? Yeah, it's that kind of magnetism. Once Hozie walks us behind the curtain and into Scarlet’s personal life, Julia’s capacity for vulnerability fuels her performance until the credits roll.
Hozie’s voyeuristic POV photography mirrors the intimacy shared by our lead characters. It affords an engaging view of this fantasy made real through the lens of the digital emptiness of online freedom. I am struck by how effective the camerawork adds tension and atmosphere to the scenes. Released in 2020, the sense of detachment, online sex work, and physical desire for affection and companionship is relatable. Pandemic or not, these themes resonate well even as we become less socially distant yet still experience the alienating effects of technology.
One slight issue with the film is that we never fully explore the emotional depths of either Jack or Scarlet. Instead, it lets the viewers wrestle with these thoughts, giving the power over to us. Very meta, right? Under Hozie’s direction, what could’ve been a mediocre story about a skewed digital romance instead becomes infused with energy and pulse, giving it an edgy, experimental feel.
On the surface, PVT Chat may seem like an unfulfilling experience of loneliness in the digital era. However, Hozie’s depiction of life behind the cam curtain strips away the sordid veneer to reveal genuine complexities hidden beneath the glow of digital sex. Double feature with something like Videophobia from Kani Releasing, which also deals with fears relating to digital identity and voyeurism.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
PVT Chat arrives on Blu-ray from Dark Star and OCN Distribution in a single disc release. If you order from Vinegar Syndrome you can score for a limited time an exclusive slipcover. The disc is Region A and loads to a basic main menu with standard navigation structure.
The raw handheld digital photography on play in PVT Chat renders the HD image with a sense of immediacy and tension. It’s presented here in an AVC-encoded 1080p image in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Darkness pervades the edges of the image as we navigate Jack’s apartment and walk with him through the sketchy alleys of NYC. Inky black levels are consistent throughout the feature.
Fine detail is minimal, though some facial features are evident in close-ups and medium shots. Adequate depth to the image. Colors are soft and subdued, rendering everything in a morose, gloomy palette. Digital noise in darker outdoor scenes is prevalent but not enough to detract from the presentation. Compression artifacts are minimal. Overall, it is an excellent presentation of the film.
The PVT Chat disc has three audio tracks, including the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1, a DD 5.1, and a DD 2.0 Stereo track. English subtitles are available. Dialogue exchanges are clear and clean without hiss or pop detected. Some echo effect is noticeable in small spaces within Jack’s apartment. This never becomes distracting but rather emphasizes the lo-fi POV aesthetic created in these scenes. Surround channels handle atmospherics well, including the gentle tapping of raindrops, adding somber touches of melancholy to the film.
Darkstar Pictures and OCN Distribution load this release with plenty of extras for fans of the film. Start with the commentary track before checking out director Ben Hozie’s other films featured here.
PVT Chat is a raw portrait of loneliness and desire that strips away the veneer of eroticism in the age of digital fantasies. Its melancholy tone presents an inviting look into the lives of two lost souls bent on a collision course. While not a perfect date movie, the film is a tense affair that offers an entertaining experience while providing thought-provoking questions to the audience.
I found the film to be an exciting thriller worth watching. Some may be turned off by the nudity and explicit sequences, but chances are, if you’re into Darkstar Pictures, you’re in the right place. The Blu-ray from Dark Star Pictures and OCN Distribution is loaded with special features, including a back catalog of Hozie’s films. Recommended.