THE BETA TEST (2021)
Jim Cummings has solidified himself as a filmmaker that will always have my interest in any project he’s attached to, and that’s solely based on him writing, directing and starring in two amazing, low-budget indie feature films. His emotive performance in 2018s Thunder Road and his ability to genre flip a story completely in The Wolf Of Snow Hollow, along with the fantastic quality of story and filmmaking that both films had on offer meant that, even without reading a synopsis or seeing the trailer, his latest feature film, The Beta Test, was one I was excited to see. And thankfully, this was well worth the wait!
Co-directing (along with co-starring and co-writing the script) with Cummings is PJ McCabe. Together, these two have crafted a visually engaging movie, with shots and cinematography that never stops moving to match with the film’s pacing. The Beta Test is a frantic movie about ‘cocaine-energy’ people, and every single scene contains camera movements that reflect this. Stylistically, there are some amazing daydream-esque scenes in which sharp lighting and camera work is able to transport you into the mindset of Jordan (Jim Cummings) in a way that compliments the insane nature of the world the story is based in.
The Beta Test is also a punctual, 90-minute thrill ride that uses it’s frantic energy to feel constantly engaging and tense. The editing is spot-on, especially highlighted in a great sex-scene/work-life montage that truly captures the over-the-top reality of Hollywood agents.
After receiving a mysterious purple envelope offering an anonymous sexual encounter, Hollywood agent Jordan Hines’ (Jim Cummings) life begins to unravel around him as he falls deep into a web of deceit and murder.
The Beta Test is all-in-all a truly on-the-nose satire about the insanity of the lives of Hollywood agents. Cummings and McCabe’s script pulls no punches when portraying characters that are all about the ‘Entourage’ lifestyle (a joke also made within the movie). It’s about the cars, the hot wives, expensive bars and most of all, not giving a single f*** about your clients as long as they're making you cash! The script's commentary on this ludicrous lifestyle almost feels a bit whistleblower-y when Jordan’s character openly states that all of the ‘bad things’ about Hollywood apparently “left with Harvey” - yet the double standard of how agents still act like that today plays as a defense mechanism for a dying social circle. Watching this all unfold under the guise of a guy who just wanted to have an affair is the perfect catalyst for this commentary to be made, and really feels like an angry outpour from Cummings and McCabe about the true state of Hollywood.
As a movie itself, it’s incredibly enjoyable. It’s satirical nature makes the reality of it’s commentary an easier pill to swallow, but it’s intrigue and thrills are played out very well on screen and feels like a mystery that you as the audience also want to solve.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
While the supporting cast, including McCabe as Jordan’s agency firm partner and Virginia Newcombe as Jordan’s fiance Caroline, give outstanding performances in their own right, The Beta Test is a showcase for how good of an actor Jim Cummings is. After turning in performances in his previous films as well-mannered (yet occasionally troubled) police officers, it was an immense amount of fun to see Cummings play an intolerable, douchey, Hollywood agent who right from the first frame looks like he is ready to emotionally explode. Cummings balances the humour and energy of Jordan with the complex emotional state of his psyche outstandingly well in this film. Always enigmatic on screen, whether he’s trying to be cool and collected, or having a complete breakdown, Cummings gives a captivating performance that really suits this crazy movie.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
On a design level, everything in The Beta Test makes sense. The suits are on point, the cars are flashy and the detail taken for these mysterious envelopes have the ‘high-society’ feel about them. With a lot of the work done in camera, the visual aspect of the film works for the movie, but never went above and beyond to impress. Being a film that is more so relying on it’s performances and story intrigue though, this is completely forgivable and forgettable.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The tense, strings filled score adds to the heightened feeling of paranoia that tracks throughout this film. It’s one of those scores that you really notice it’s presence as it slowly fades into a scene, because it’s music that seems too excessive, until you realise that’s the exact point within this world.
The Beta Test is as much of an enjoyably satirical take on Hollywood’s insane culture, as it is a truly thrilling and engaging mystery film. Frantic direction, solid pacing, a tight script and an energetic lead performance from Cummings makes this film 3-out-of-3 hits for Jim Cummings.
THE BETA TEST opens in [Limited] Cinemas and VOD - November 5th