Over the last few years, New York City duo Josh Safdie and younger brother Benny Safdie have created their own niche brand of crime-thriller films. Most notably with 2017’s Good Time and 2019’s Uncut Gems. Both films are highly celebrated among critics and fans alike with the general consensus that the brotherly duo can expertly craft drama, comedy and crime whilst simultaneously creating of the most anxiety-inducing cinema in recent memory.
In the wake of the immense success of Uncut Gems comes a new film that could fit within the same high-intensity realm, from independent filmmaker and lead guitarist/singer of NYC art punk/post-punk band Bodega, Ben Hozie.
Credited as “A romance about freedom, fantasy, death and friendship”, starring Peter Vack, and Safdie Bros. alumni, Julia Fox and Buddy Duress, PVT Chat focuses on an internet gambler living in NYC who becomes fixated on a cam girl he meets online. His obsession reaches boiling point when fantasy materialises in reality and he believe he spots her on the streets of Manhattan.
With its gritty, hand-held documentary-like approach to filming, PVT Chat showcases the mundane and isolated day-to-day life of online gambling addict, Jack (Vack). Sexually frustrated and looking for human interaction; the human touch, Jack frequents online sex chatrooms. During his interactions he meets Scarlet (Fox), a dominatrix claiming to live in San Francisco.
As part of her online work, Scarlet makes Jack her “slave” throughout the course of their online escapades, forcing him to be submissive and humiliate himself for his sexual gratification. Jack will mimic cigarettes being put out onto his tongue, pretend to inhale second-hand smoke puffed by Scarlet through the screen and even spank himself, all at Scarlet’s demand. And in due course, Jack puts an actual cigarette out onto his tongue and it’s 100% real folks, no special effects or camera trickery. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve done that once before as a dare and believe me, it ain’t fun. Vack has some big cojones to really immerse himself into the character and the mindset of somebody who’s a slut for punishment!
Jack quickly becomes infatuated with Scarlet, lying about his position in life to appeal more desirable not just to her but to the world. And in a stroke of luck, he believes he notices her one night whilst walking the streets of Manhattan. To her bemusement, Scarlet challenges Jack to take photo of her alleged doppelgänger. Jack decides to makes a deal with Scarlet, if he can get photographic evidence of her in NYC, she must accompany him on a romantic trip to Paris.
Taking many twists and turns throughout its 76-minute runtime, PVT Chat has the same level of sheer force that its [Safdie] contemporaries wield: the ability to grab a hold of your throat and squeeze until there’s no breath left in you.
Peter Vack sets a career-best as “Blackjack Jack”. Having recently loss his room-mate and close friend, behind on paying landlord rent but happy to spend hundreds of dollars on sex chatrooms, Jack leads a very bleak and depressing life. Whilst complicit in lying to Scarlet about his “big tech-creating opportunity”, he’ll cook himself instant noodles in his largely unfurnished, crummy NYC apartment. The desperation and longing for companionship is a deeply sad affair to watch.
Jack’s obsessive crusade to prove that Scarlet lives in NYC and not San Francisco brings a Taxi Driver/The King of Comedy quality to PVT Chat. During the scene where he believes he spots Scarlet in the streets of Chinatown and the fanatical stalking begins, everything down to the shaky, (sometimes) first-person camera work is the epitome of that Scorsese, NYC grimy-type thriller.
In equal parts alluring and infuriating, Fox steals the show! Whenever Scarlet is on-screen, your eyes are laser-focused towards her. She’s bedazzling. Like Jack, you’re desperate to understand more about her and her shtick. Being a cam girl who prefers to keep her personal life more private, viewers are spoon-fed small mouthfuls about her to begin with, causing deep frustration of this elusive and desirable woman. The more the film progresses and her and Jack’s relationship begins to blossom, viewers are eventually rewarded with ever so slightly bigger mouthfuls of information on Scarlet’s background. However the more you learn, the less you wish to know. Her day-to-day life off-cam is equally as dejected as Jack’s. Without giving away any spoilers, one gut-wrenching quote from Scarlet that – to me sums up her quality of life, is, “I make us money so you can do your thing”.
In early 2020, Fox spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on being a real-life dominatrix for a six-month stint. “Then I got into the sex industry pretty young, doing S&M stuff”. “Officially the job title was ‘dominatrix’”. “I had heard about another girl who was doing it and there was no sex and no nudity. It was all role-playing”. With that level of genuine experience, newcomer and Uncut Gems sensation silences any noise that may have doubted her star potential. She’s the real deal in Hozie’s film!
Unlike a Scorsese or Safdie Bros. flick, Hozie’s film focuses (a lot) less on crime and more on themes or loneliness, isolation, obsession and erotica. At its core, PVT Chat is a film about two people who long for intimacy in two completely different capacities. Jack is a sleazy loner with a compulsion to lie in order to make himself appear more admirable. Scarlet is a confident, predatory sex worker, displaying the darker side to online sex work whilst still being just as desperate as Jack to to link with people on a much deeper level. And its very pure, humane story of love, bonding and loss couldn’t be more on the nose than the unprecedented times we’re living through with the global COVID-19 pandemic still running wild.
With online sex work becoming increasingly more popular, PVT Chat could serve as both a positive and a negative look on the psychology behind “content creating” as well as the potential dangers for “content creators” and “content consumers” all through a nihilistic lens.
Drama, Crime, Thriller | USA, 2020 | 18 | Digital HD | 12th February 2021 (UK) | Vertigo Releasing | Dir. Ben Hozie | Julia Fox, Peter Vack, Buddy Duress, Keith Poulson, Kevin Moccia