A fixture in the NYC indie film scene, Peter Vack is no stranger to playing aggressively unlikeable characters. His lean figure, model-like looks and ghostly complexion always seems to mask a seething rage that could explode at any moment. Now we can add Jack, the lead character in Ben Hozie’s PVT CHAT, to the list – an obnoxiously condescending internet gambler whose only real social interactions come from the cam girls that he furiously jerks off to each night.
There’s just one girl that Jack is obsessed with, though – a sultry, sweet dominatrix named Scarlet (Uncut Gems breakout star Julia Fox) who lovingly humiliates him as her slave and masochistically play-acts putting out cigarettes on his tongue. Over time, their relationship begins to deepen past the sexual and when Jack thinks he spots Scarlet in a nearby convenience store, he’s overjoyed. But as Scarlet claims to live in San Francisco and swears that she’s never been to New York, Jack starts to question her motives and we start to question his sanity.
Vack is no stranger to the transgressive (just witness his 2017 directorial effort Assholes if you want to laugh and barf in equal measure) and both him and Fox expose themselves physically and psychologically as we gradually learn more about these damaged character’s lives. Following their leads, writer-director Hozie invites more of a narrative fluidity than in his esoteric earlier features, while still keeping an experimental edge that bestows an exciting energy on to potentially mundane drama. Even though Jack may never really redeem himself, PVT CHAT reaches a surprisingly tender conclusion that, in the film’s own strange way, approaches a kind of romance.
Claustrophobically set amongst NYC’s cramped apartments, PVT CHAT may turn out to be the perfect erotic drama for our current isolated times.