Relationships are Volatile in Social Media Thriller The Beta Test (FANTASTIC)
Title: The Beta Test
First Non-Festival Release: October 15, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Writer: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe, Virginia Newcombe
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
Hot shot Hollywood executive Jordan (Jim Cummings) receives a letter in the mail that offers him an exclusive, no-strings-attached sexual experience at a hotel. Initially disinterested, Jordan, changes his mind when he finds the lack of control in his perfect life suffocating. When he arrives, he is instructed to wear a blindfold, which he sheepishly does. Although he quickly regrets the encounter, even though it was satisfying, Jordan grows weary that something isn’t quite right about the process. He begins questioning who he slept with and if his secret is safe from his fiancé.
Despite tight editing, clever writing, and a stellar lead performance The Beta Test gets bogged down by its grandiose ideas.
The film follows Jordan and his quest to uncover the mystery behind the invitation and the woman he meets. His journey is multifaceted as he breaks down and discovers that the truths about himself are more revelatory than the services offered. Jim Cummings does an incredible job of crafting Jordan. His acting style is noticeable and does shine through but it’s still distinct enough to differentiate from previous roles. He can convincingly crescendo from hot shot agent to unhinged tyrant. Everyone is forced to play straight against him, but they do a good job of balancing his often-chaotic energy. It would be interesting to see a more patient Jordan or a Jordan not facing the pressures of his redundancy at work reacting to the events.
The Beta Test deals with plenty of topics but the concept of cheating is its most apparent. It’s interesting to see spouse’s reactions to finding out the infidelity of their partners. Are they calm? Sad? Violent? The range of emotions feels right but the overwhelming choice of violence doesn’t quite feel realistic. I find that when Jordan and his fiancée Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) finally get their conversation, it happens in manner that is more nuanced. Cummings and Newcomb approach this wonderfully and make their responses genuine.
Plenty of institutions and social practices are on the defense in The Beta Test. It's filled with plenty of subtle and overt digs at the industries and societal practices that are clearly front and center with the film. Hollywood as an industry changing and the predatory nature of agents along with it. Agents clinging to power they no longer have, much like Jordan, find frustration in their inability to set their own course in life when roadblocks arise. This also goes hand in hand with the current climate on sex and power. Regardless of your opinions on the #MeToo movement, its effect on dating, adultery, and sex’s place in business is palpable. The Beta Test explores this by exposing how some men feel even after they have completely consensual sexual experiences. Lastly, it explores the darkest parts of social media. Every choice becomes data that can be used against you for marketing, optimization, or even blackmail.
An even paced and darkly satirical film, The Beta Test would neither be as sharp nor as entertaining if it were in the hands of a less confident director. Expert editing splices of jump cuts together juxtaposing moments to both make connections to separate events/ideas but also disorient and confuse. The idea that someone could have something to hold over you and there’s no way to go back on it is scary. Regardless of the process, the fear is palpable through the screen.
In the end, The Beta Test fails to live up to its lofty ambitions and its desire to tackle everything leaves the audience wanting more from it. The power its premise and incredible lead actor doesn’t make up for its dizzying amount of takes on current issues and odd writing choices for secondary characters. Still, it’s a relatively brisk thriller with plenty to make audiences think afterwards and enough comedic gold to make even the most jaded viewer chuckle. The Beta Test is rough around the edges but is well worth the blind buy if you are looking for something exciting for your cinematic evening viewing pleasure.
Overall Score? 6.5/10