The Beta Test, 2021.
Directed by Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe.
Starring Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcombe, PJ McCabe, Kevin Changaris, Olivia Grace Applegate and Jessie Barr.
Jordan (Jim Cummings) works for a large Hollywood talent agency. Out of blue he receives a mysterious invitation to meet someone for an illicit liaison. Succumbing to temptation is only half the problem, as his other issue sits squarely with his fiancée who demands an opinion on place cards for their imminent wedding.
Billed as a Hollywood satire, coming on like the bastard lovechild of an underfunded David Fincher, and featuring a central performance running on fumes, The Beta Test is an exercise in economy. This stripped back indie thriller which peppers elements of The Game, Falling Down and Swimming with Sharks into a heady brew of narcissism is potent stuff.
From an opening which comes out of left field with murderous intent, to an obnoxious lead performance from Jim Cummings, that makes Patrick Bateman look well adjusted, The Beta Test keeps it coming. By hinging their feature film on a simple premise, writer directors Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe consistently deliver sucker punches to the entertainment industry. With all the diplomacy of a Mary Harron protagonist, Jordan lies and smarms his way through numerous encounters using everyone like his own personal boot scraper.
As a creation he is both riveting and repulsive, whether berating an assistant for being alive or lying through his teeth under interrogation from his would-be wife. He reeks of entitlement, brown noses with the skill of a colonoscopy veteran and then causes havoc when things go sideways. With this much frenetic energy careening around the screen, it is little wonder that others have to fight for their moment in the spotlight.
This crowdfunded indie gem covers the gamut of potential genres by embracing them all. Erotic thriller, murder mystery and brooding industry satire are just a few hats it wears comfortably during the concise runtime. It makes some pertinent points on social media, personal data usage and on-line identities, but remains off kilter throughout. Following on from Thunder Road, this searing indictment of entertainment as an industry, chalks up another win for Jim Cummings as a creative tour de force.
Bleak, relentless and stylistically abstract, The Beta Test subverts expectations yet does so employing subtlety over something more ostentatious. Swimming With Sharks seems to be the ideal companion piece for this industry snap shot, that demeans and belittles anyone with a pulse. Within the confines of this movie, characters talk and say nothing while those in power exploit their influence.
Nightmare visions, barely pent up expressions of rage, and inquisitive eyes are everywhere. Both before and after Jordan crosses that line, tensions continue being racked up notch by notch until his limits are reached. Even after the perpetrator has been revealed and retribution administered, there is no sense of release or relaxation. Desperation still sits close to the surface, simmering away just out of sight biding its time. Something this metaphorical adrenaline junkie of a movie offers up with no regrets or room for low key resolution.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★