February 9, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Ben Hozie
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the erotic drama “PVT CHAT” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians in small speaking roles) representing the middle-class and working class.
Culture Clash: An online gambler becomes obsessed with a webcam dominatrix, and she resists his attempts to meet her in real life.
Culture Audience: “PVT CHAT” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a cheap sexploitation movie with a badly written plot and self-absorbed characters who act irrationally.
“PVT CHAT” desperately tries to be the type of edgy New York City movie that writer/director Vincent Gallo used to make in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Gallo’s gimmick of being provocative just for the sake of being provocative eventually turned off movie audiences because of his lazy screenwriting. If people want to watch softcore porn, they can watch softcore porn in any number of places that offer it. They don’t need to be misled by softcore porn trying to masquerade as creative “auteur” work.
For a movie that’s supposed to be a mainstream (in other words, non-porn) independent film, audiences expect a compelling story that’s unconstrained by the type of restrictions that a major studio film would have. Instead, “PVT CHAT” has a very flimsy plot that’s just an excuse to make the movie’s lead actors masturbate and simulate other sex acts on camera to distract from this time-wasting story. The unoriginal concept of “PVT CHAT” is that it’s about a guy who becomes obsessed with a woman he met on the Internet. Yawn.
Written and directed by Ben Hozie, “PVT CHAT” squanders the talent of Julia Fox, who was a standout in the award-winning 2019 drama “Uncut Gems,” where she portrayed the much-younger mistress of Adam Sandler’s gambling-addict character. In “PVT CHAT,” Fox plays another woman who’s the love interest of another gambling addict. Her “PVT CHAT” character is a webcam dominatrix in her 20s who uses the alias Scarlet. Her online persona is someone who’s like a modern-day BDSM version of a black-haired vixen from a Russ Meyer movie, such as 1965’s “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”
One of Scarlet’s regular customers is a guy around her age named Jack (played by Peter Vack), who eventually becomes fixated on meeting Scarlet in person. To go from “Uncut Gems” to “PVT CHAT” is a big step down for Fox, who has a charismatic on-screen presence. She should probably re-evaluate whoever advised her to do this lowbrow, trashy movie that makes everyone in it look like an idiot.
Jack makes his living as an online gambler, playing mostly blackjack. The movie takes place in New York City, where Jack is barely getting by financially. As a small-time gambler, his income fluctuates. Before this movie takes place, Jack’s roommate died of a drug overdose, and Jack hasn’t found someone else to move in to help pay the bills. Jack is very late with his rent, and his landlord Henry (played by Atticus Cain) has just informed Jack that he’s not renewing Jack’s lease.
The only thing Jack looks forward to in his life is connecting online with his favorite “cam girl” Scarlet, who indulges in his fetish for Jack to masturbate while she simulates tapping ash from a cigarette on his tongue. This fetish for cigarette ash on a tongue is shown repeatedly during the movie. And it’s the first scene in “PVT CHAT.” This movie tries to pass itself off as “daring,” just because it has multiple sex scenes with full-frontal male nudity.
Scarlet has told Jack that she lives in San Francisco. Anyone watching this movie can tell that she’s lying, no doubt for her own protection against creeps like Jack. Meanwhile, Jack does some lying of his own, by telling Scarlet that he works as a tech developer. He says that he’s working on an app called C-Stream that will allow users to directly access other people’s thoughts through an Internet cloud. He explains that people would need to have their brains implanted with a chip in order to use this app.
Although this technology could exist in the future, “PVT CHAT” is not a science-fiction film and is supposed to take place when this technology doesn’t exist. But Scarlet believes Jack, who promises that she’ll be one of the first people he’ll give a discount to when this C-Stream app goes on sale. The people in this movie are so dimwitted that even if the C-Stream app existed, they would need the app to get other people’s brain power. When Jack later confesses to Scarlet that he lied about the C-Stream app, Scarlet is surprised, but viewers of this nonsensical movie shouldn’t be.
As time goes on, Scarlet opens up a little bit about her real career passion: painting abstract art. Eventually, Scarlet shows Jack some of her paintings during their online chats. Of course, he raves about her work and gives her effusive compliments about how talented she is. Scarlet tells Jack that he’s only saying that so he can have sex with her. Jack doesn’t deny it.
“PVT CHAT” then goes into an unnecessary detour to show Jack attending an avant-garde visual arts exhibit showcasing the work of his ex-girlfriend Emma KaVas (played by Nikki Belfiglio), who apparently still has feelings for Jack. At one point, Jack stays at Emma’s place, although it’s never really made clear why, because this movie so shoddily written.
Emma says to Jack as she looks around at her messy bedroom, “What did you do to my room?” She then tries to give a Jack a massage, but he’s not into it, and he brushes her off. It’s hard to see why Emma wants to get back together with Jack, because he’s got a sleazy, untrustworthy personality.
Jack’s only friend seems to be a goofy guy named Larry (played by Buddy Duress), and when they get together, they have a “frat bro” mentality. For example, at Emma’s pretentious art exhibit, Jack and Larry horse around and have a scuffle on the floor, as if they’re 10-year-olds on a playground. There are plenty of other scenes where Jack acts very immature and quite empty-headed.
One day, Jack wakes up to find that his landlord has hired a painter to repaint the walls of Jack’s apartment because the apartment’s next tenant will be moving there in the near future. At this point, Jack is in such dire straits that he has only a few weeks to move out, he’s almost broke, and he hasn’t found a new place to live. The painter is a middle-aged man named William, who also goes by the name Will (played by Kevin Moccia), and they strike up a friendly conversation.
Jack tells Will that he makes money through online gambling. Will is intrigued and asks Jack to show him how it’s done. So one night, Jack, Will and Larry meet up at Jack’s place to smoke some marijuana and gamble. Jack happens to have a winning streak where he wins a few thousand dollars.
Will is so impressed that he asks Jack to help him get $20,000 through gambling, because Will says he needs the money for his son’s college tuition. Jack says that he can probably do it if Will can come up with at least $10,000 to start. They agree to the deal. But of course, in a movie like this one, you just know something’s going to go wrong with that money.
Meanwhile, one night while Jack is walking through the streets of Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, he’s shocked to see Scarlet walking in front of him. She’s by herself, so he follows her into a deli and watches her as she buys some beer. He then follows her back to a building where she apparently lives. She has no idea that Jack saw her and was stalking her.
However, when Jack gets home, he logs on to his laptop computer and asks Scarlet this creepy question: “How’s the beer? Are you available for a session?” Scarlet ignores him but eventually connects with him again.
When they talk again, Jack tells Scarlet that he saw her in Chinatown and vividly describes what he saw her do in the deli. But she denies that Jack saw her and says that she’s never even been to New York. She insists that Jack must’ve seen someone who looks exactly like her.
Jack doesn’t really believe Scarlet, so he makes a bet with her: Jack says that if he can take a picture or video of her in person, she’ll have to agree to go on a trip to Paris with him. And he’s up front in telling her that he wants to have sex with her at some point when they meet in person. Jack tries to make it sound like the trip to Paris will be romantic, but any adult with a brain can see what his main motive is.
Scarlet’s real life is eventually shown in the movie. Not all of her secrets will be revealed in this review, but it’s enough to say that she has a shady boyfriend named Duke (played by Will Poulson), who knows about Scarlet’s webcam work. Duke not only knows about it, he expects Scarlet to financially support him, and he takes most of the money she earns so that he can open an off-Broadway theater. Jack finds out more about Scarlet’s personal life, and it leads to Jack doing some more lurid stalking.
“PVT CHAT” tries to make Jack look like a “good guy” by having him try to help Will with the college tuition money, but that generous gesture is overshadowed by how much of an obsessive scumbag Jack is when it comes to dealing with Scarlet. She’s no angel either. And between the two of them, there’s enough lying, cheating and stealing that it’s almost laughable that the “PVT CHAT” filmmakers want viewers of this movie to root for Jack and Scarlet to get together.
It’s all so pointless because Jack and Scarlet are the type of people who gravitate toward toxic relationships filled with dishonesty and manipulation. The movie by no means had to be romantic, but it tries to play into romantic sensibilities toward the end, and it all just comes across as very phony. Even without the issues of sex and relationships, “PVT CHAT” isn’t even an intriguing thriller. There’s an unconvincing plot development that’s sloppily presented in the last 20 minutes of the film.
As the mysterious character of Scarlet, Fox seems to be doing the best she can with a woefully inept script, while Vack is stuck with playing a very unsympathetic and annoying character. The sex scenes are joyless, boring and not sexy at all. And “PVT CHAT” doesn’t deserve extra praise, just because it goes against the norm by having the male actor in the sex scenes have more nudity (full-frontal) than the female actor.
In fact, the movie has a misogynistic tone to it because the only women with significant speaking roles in the movie are those who play a character who does webcam porn (like Scarlet) or has some other sexual connection to Jack, such as his ex-girlfriend Anna. Far from being a sexually liberating film, it’s actually very unimaginative and narrow-minded that “PVT CHAT” writer/director Hozie chose to not put any women in this movie in any other context, except to be sexually in service to a thoughtless lowlife like Jack. But then again, self-respecting people would want to steer clear of a dishonest creep like Jack in the real world. People looking for a quality movie should steer clear of “PVT CHAT” too.
Dark Star Pictures released “PVT CHAT” in select U.S. cinemas on February 5, 2021, and on digital and VOD on February 9, 2021.