In a world saturated with online content, it takes a lot for a film to stand out and capture its audience’s undivided attention. Ben Hozie’s PVT Chat could not be a more timely examination of the human craving for connection, contact and companionship.
Jack, played by a compellingly natural Peter Vack, is a nervous, socially awkward fantasist. He is somewhat unreliable, and all the more alluring for it. Practically penniless and soon to be evicted, he spends what little he has chasing instant gratification via online gambling and sexual chat rooms. It’s in the latter that he meets dominatrix Scarlett (Julia Fox). Their interactions provide sexual pleasure but it isn’t long before Jack wants, perhaps even needs, something deeper. Paying only for conversation, Jack learns more about Scarlett and the person beneath the flirty facade. In his increasing infatuation he genuinely believes a bond has been built between them, but is Scarlett all she appears to be or does she have a concealed agenda?
Hozie’s naturalistic, colloquial dialogue is elevated by Vack and Fox, who inject depth and complexity into their characters. Fox offers an authentic and nuanced performance that immediately draws viewers in and allows the character of Scarlett to become so much more than a mere plot device. The actress spends much of the film performing through a webcam, yet still manages to captivate in every scene. She’s permitted more time to shine in the second half, as the perspective shifts and her role is explored a little further. The sudden change of focus will be jarring to some, but it at least allows Scarlett to come into her own, while continuing to drive the narrative.
The moody cinematography and limited locations create a claustrophobic atmosphere, reflective of Jack’s confinement within the four walls of his small apartment, a computer his main source of company. The use of handheld camerawork brings a sense of voyeurism and intruding on Jack’s world. It makes for some uncomfortable viewing, yet serves to bring home the points the director is making: human beings aren all flawed and fragile, with common needs and desires; beauty on the outside isn’t necessarily mirrored within; humans are over-reliant on technology – relishing the positives it has to offer, yet struggling to compute the drawbacks that come with it.
Hozie strips down human instinct and behaviour in this unflinching, meticulous observation. Certain artistic choices might not work, and the ending is perhaps perplexing, even disappointing, but there is nonetheless something to be taken from this refreshingly innovative indie.
PVT Chat is released digitally on demand on 12th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for PVT Chat here: