Film Review: Voyeuristic Handheld Erotic Thriller ‘PVT Chat’ ★★★

Writer-Director Ben Hozie crafts PVT Chat, an erotic thriller focussing on the intense relationship between a cam-girl and internet gambler. The result is a woozy, voyeuristic ride that feels like scrappy guerrilla filmmaking, despite its questionable moral standpoint.

Opening with an explicit darkly lit introduced to Jack (Peter Vack), an online gambler who spends his days frantically taking part in casino games and his nights tipping and chatting to camgirls. He soon becomes fixated with Scarlet (Julia Fox), a video sex worker based in San Francisco. Jack becomes determined to track her down and form a relationship, but a chance sighting of her in Chinatown forces him to question where his obsession is blurring with fantasy.

Set in dilapidated and darkened New York apartments, paired with the explicit subject matter, and a dingy colour palette of wet beiges and browns from Hozie (who also takes cinematography duties here), PVT Chat feels aesthetically like a seedy seventies noir. Heightening these aesthetics with dim lighting – darkened rooms lit by the eerie glow of computer screens, helps craft a sinister, unsettling visual style ensuring that the grimy aesthetics match the uneasy subject matter.

Shooting the film with a haphazard handheld style also heightens the voyeuristic tone of the subject matter, allowing the film’s sinister edge to truly get under viewer’s skin as Jack because progressively infatuated with Scarlet. Jack is a character whose real social relationships feel clunky and unnatural, lacking the social skills to craft meaningful relationships in person – his domain is online – whether this be his sex life, career, or social life. His musings often feel like a stream of consciousness, veering into intense ramblings seen when he describes his passion project and trillion dollar idea C-Stream – a social network aiming to connect the consciousness of its users – a move that further highlights his distorted social behaviour.

Given the character development of Jack – channelled in an impressive, absorbing off-kilter performance from Peter Vack – we get a sinister edge from him, perfectly highlighted in a sequence which sees Jack follow a potential Scarlet through a NYC grocery store and ultimately to her home. Jack’s obsessive behaviour and pursuit of Scarlet is sometimes uncomfortable to watch, yet PVT Chat’s narrative takes some inventive turns to challenge our narrative expectations.

As we grow to know Scarlet more – the narrative switches and explores her life – we realise that she may not be the innocent victim of Jack’s infatuation. Julia Fox does an impressive job at filling the role with some sense of depth – despite the narrative’s predilection for treating the character as a sex object.

PVT Chat has some interesting musings on the idea of social alienation – explored as Jack cuts off his real human relationships to pursue the world of instant online gratification. Yet the moral message at the heart of the feature struggles to get past the idea that if you pursue someone relentlessly enough they will eventually yield. This skewed message paired with a lack of female characters that exist beyond a sexual purpose, means PVT Chat can leave something of a bad taste in your mouth.

From an aesthetic standpoint, PVT Chat is impressive in its handheld voyeuristic style, grimy aesthetics and its bold erotic tone, yet from a moral standpoint, the film’s core message feels somewhat murky and problematic.