The evolution of the film noir is a fascinating one to track. Early works like Double Indemnity or Detour reflect a period that might seem entirely alien to a modern audience; the technological elements being a distinct factor. Not just in the way technology can be implemented as a narrative device, mind you, but in how filmmakers use it to tell their stories as well. The threads that tie something like Hitchcock’s Vertigo to PVT Chat, the latest outing from director Ben Hozie, are the narrative tropes that define the noir at its core. In Vertigo, our protagonist pursues his femme ideal through physically following her—in a car or on foot; where in PVT Chat, the obsession is funneled through an online pursuit—the computer screen making “the artifice” that much clearer, whilst still projecting abstractions.
At the end of the day, PVT Chat is a pretty mixed bag—especially in comparison to the staple classics I’ve mentioned—but what’s curious is how it utilizes this familiar genre to tell a very modern tale. Hozie seems to ingratiate this influence with awareness, albeit a rather surface level one. It’s not like PVT Chat is the first neo-noir to tackle this content via the realm of the internet. It does do some admirable things with the material, however. The performances from the cast and choices in Hozie’s vérité-esque style brought a needed level of authenticity to PVT Chat. Though, the way the narrative ends up shaking out remains questionable at that.
The film follows Jack, a single 20-something living in New York City. He makes his living off online gambling, and funnels most of his earnings into cam-girl web chat rooms. He becomes obsessive over a particular model, named Scarlet, and as his obsession grows, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred. Apart from that brief synopsis, it’s best to go into PVT Chat with as blind of expectations as possible. Though it’s also important to note, as there would certainly be some viewers who find this uncomfortable, the film is quite graphic in its sexual nature. It’s admirable how Hozie and company were this unfiltered in presenting the content, but again, surely not everyone will agree.
The experience, more or less, hinges on the two lead performers—and both Peter Vack and Julia Fox give rather natural, lived in, performances that feel true to their characters, by totally putting themselves out there; which is notably brave. Ben Hozie’s raw, low-budget approach to the film certainly had to make the environment they were shooting in that much more intimate. Hats off to him as well for not only taking on the director/writer title, but also the roles of cinematographer and editor here. In one sense, it’s quite commendable to head up all those key departments as the filmmaker, but in another, it may not have helped Hozie keep all his ducks in a row, as it were, during production; mostly when considering the care being applied to the script or core story.
That’s where the major problems with PVT Chat really come down to; the script. Again, attempting again not to spoil anything, it all ultimately felt a bit underwhelming by its conclusion. Like there was an untapped potential for something a little more profound in the narrative. It’s best to stop there though, and let the audience decide for themselves. While it might not be a game changer, PVT Chat is still well worth seeking out; if not only to further support independent filmmaking, and during the pandemic no less! Personal opinions aside, it will definitely leave audiences with something to talk about, and any film that warrants a conversation holds some intrinsic value. Plus, who doesn’t love a good mystery?