FilmReview

Film Review: The Beta Test

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Writers and Directors: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe

The #MeToo movement created massive waves within the Hollywood community, even if the heinous attitudes and actions that it covered had been an open secret for years. However, decades of ingrained culture was not going to disappear overnight, although most of the coverage of this dark time in Tinsel Town is so busy wringing its hands over what happened it fails to address the obvious fact – that the poison remains, it’s now just supressed. The Beta Test looks at this by focussing on a supposed Hollywood hotshot struggling to cope in a post-Weinstein world.

Writer/Director/Actor Jim Cummings is quickly becoming an exciting new talent in filmmaking following Thunder Road (2018) and The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020), and while both of these films are smart, witty and dark, his latest which he has co-directed and written with PJ McCabe (who also stars) ambitiously takes on toxic Hollywood, the evils of social media, and the modern curse of needing to look happy and successful to others, and wraps them up in a very effective psychological thriller.

Jordan (Cummings) is on the brink of marriage and on the verge of failure as a Hollywood agent when he receives a mysterious letter in the mail: a professionally produced but anonymous invitation to a no-strings-attached sexual encounter in a hotel. Initially dismissive, Jordan decides to accept the offer of this strange temptation. The tryst is silent and blind-folded and occurs without incident, but in the aftermath Jordan becomes obsessed with the mystery, both of the identity of the woman and of who set this up and why.

It’s a neat concept that engages from the very start following an attention-grabbing pre-credits sequence. Jordan’s life starts to spiral out of control as the cracks begin to show in his professional veneer to reveal insecurity, insincerity and rage. Whether it’s being unengaged with the planning of his wedding with fiancé Caroline (Virginia Newcomb), or publicly humiliating his assistant Jaclyn (Jacqueline Doke), it’s clear that Jordan’s grip on his own sanity was precarious to begin with, but that this newly created uncertainty leads him to increasingly reckless actions and is in danger of pushing him completely over the edge.

Cummings as Jordan is superb. Filled with nervous energy and a wide smile that hints at misery beneath, this is a layered performance of a character who both evolves and remains depressingly the same as the film continues. The rest of the cast (which includes many working with Cummings again following Thunder Road) are all excellent, but this is Cummings’ show. Starting with his amazing single-take eulogy scene that made up the original Thunder Road short film (2016) as well as the opening scene of the feature-length remake, Cummings has an extraordinary talent for completely capturing the viewer’s attention with raw emotion and undeniable charisma. His and McCabe’s script is tight, pointed and refreshingly lean with the entire film sitting at a perfect 90 minutes, and their shared direction is assured and unflashy.

Overall Cummings and McCabe have maybe been too ambitious with how many targets they aim at in this film and some don’t quite get the attention they deserve, leaving the final message slightly unclear. Also, the denouement feels unnecessarily big for such an intimate story. However, taking all of the messages and satirical jabs out of this still leaves an extremely strong thriller that gives us a further reason to keep a close eye on what Jim Cummings does next.

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents The Beta Test in cinemas on 15 October.

The Reviews Hub Score

Thrillingly Toxic

The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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