The Beta Test is a pseudo erotic thriller that takes a hard look at Hollywood, love, lust, and communicating in the modern age. Jordan Hines (co-director and co-writer Jim Cummings) is a Hollywood talent agent who is about to get married. One day, he receives a mysterious envelope that promises a no strings attached sexual encounter. He goes through with the offer, changing his life in unexpected ways.
Cummings is brilliant as the self absorbed main character. His vacant smile flashes greed and uncaring while his interactions with his wife (Virginia Newcomb who is also fantastic) show just how oblivious and phony he is. Jordan almost oozes slime as he fakes his way through each conversation, yells at his assistant, and holds conversations with potential clients.
Just as telling are the scenes in which he is alone. The Beta Test shows a man breaking down. The one encounter has consumed Jordan’s life to the point where all of his neuroses are exposed for the world to see. Thankfully, the space he inhabits is just as plastic as he is, so his job is not in danger. The only thing at risk are his personal relationships and those are not really of any concern to him.
Everything culminates in a mesmerizing scene in which Jordan fully breaks down. Cummings absolutely commands the screen during these pivotal moments. It is impossible to not hinge on each word he is saying. The movie was made outside of the Hollywood system and skewers it mercilessly all but guaranteeing it will not receive any award recognition. This is a shame since this is one of the best performances of the year.
As great as Cummings is, The Beta Test does not solely succeed due to him. The story is captivating and the mystery will hold on to the audience the entire time. As the plot progresses, it also takes on the male gaze, the toxic work culture, and the value of wealth. The script seamlessly navigates through each topic. The writing remains fantastic and conversations between the characters are appropriately artificial.
The supporting cast also do an amazing job. PJ McCabe (who also co-wrote and co-directed) holds his own and even manages to steal some of the scenes. Jessie Barr has some great moments as PJ’s annoyed wife. Everyone has great chemistry ensuring there is no downtime in The Beta Test. The movie is consistently funny, with some great one liners that also include commentary about today’s society.
It is easy for films to get caught up in an aesthetic. Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe could have easily coasted by as the DIY filmmakers who talk s--t about Hollywood while circumventing it. Instead, The Beta Test is a gripping thriller that looks beautiful, has an engaging story, and boasts some of the best banter of the year. The performances are on par with an major film and its message is one that people will understand.
Fantastic Fest takes place from September 23 – September 30. Check out AIPT’s ongoing coverage.
The Beta Test opens in select theaters, digital, and on demand November 5
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