PVT Chat

★★★1/2

Reviewing “PVT Chat” (available in select theaters beginning Friday Feb. 5 and on VOD Tuesday Feb. 9) proved to be an interesting experience. The first time through I was pretty tired and fell asleep only to wake up to lead actress Julia Fox graphically masturbating. My wife entered the room as this was transpiring and exclaimed/questioned, “What in the hell are you watching?!!!” Additionally, it was hard (no pun intended) for me to pull pics for this review that didn’t include displays of dildos.

As you’ve probably already surmised, “PVT Chat” is very sexual in nature. I won’t lie – prurient interests drew me to the film given the subject matter and the fact that it stars Fox, who I was enamored by after seeing her breakout performance in the Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems.” I was initially taken aback by just how sleazy the proceedings were (I’m no prude. I’m just unaccustomed to seeing erect penises and unsimulated masturbation in cinema.), but once I fell into the film’s rhythms it actually paid dividends for me and revealed sad truths about how some folks strive for human interaction.

Jack (Peter Vack, whipping his wang out like he’s Harvey Keitel in the early ‘90s) is a New York City-based loner who makes his living playing online Blackjack. He’s lamely/humorously referred to as Blackjack Jack at one point in the picture. When Jack’s not gambling he’s hitting up cam girls. He’s taken a particular shine to Scarlet (Fox), a dominatrix who claims to live in San Francisco and has aspirations beyond camming as a painter.

Lo and behold, Scarlet’s actually also in NYC as Jack spots her in Chinatown and proceeds to follow her around. Turns out Scarlet’s not the only one lying as Jack’s told her that he’s a successful businessman – when in reality he’s about to be evicted. Adding insult to injury, one of Jack’s only friends is Will (Kevin Moccia), the guy who’s been hired to paint the apartment for new tenants.

“PVT Chat” is written, edited, photographed and directed by Ben Hozie (he also cameos in the picture). It kinda calls to mind films such as “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” or “Secretary” (or any other movie where James Spader plays a pervert) as well as flicks by the aforementioned Safdie Brothers (the inclusion of Safdie veteran Buddy Duress as Jack’s other buddy who assists him in stalking Scarlet cements the deal). The picture very much has its roots set in the New York art scene – there’s even a subplot where Jack and his buddies attend the gallery opening of Emma (Nikki Belfiglio), a woman who’s inexplicably drawn to Jack despite the fact that he treats her like crap opting instead to fixate on Scarlet.

Hozie deserves credit for directing Vack and Fox in performances that fascinate. I was unfamiliar with Vack coming into the film – he’s a unique presence. The cadence of Vack’s speech is often overly formal to the point of irritation, but I suspect this has more to do with the performance as opposed to the performer – after all he’s playing a bit of a weirdo. Fox’s work here isn’t as captivating as it was in “Uncut Gems,” but she’s still quite solid and I look forward to seeing her in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move” later this year. Neither Jack nor Scarlet are particularly likable, but they’re interesting and immensely watchable despite engaging in off-putting behaviors. I wouldn’t want to be friends with either of these folks in reality, but they’re compelling enough for 86 minutes.

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