Over the past couple of years, the Hollywood industry has been rapidly changing. In the wake of movements like #MeToo, there’s been a pulling back of the curtain of sorts. The Hollywood Industry has shown a deep seeded toxicity that has never been addressed before. Years and years of ingrained toxic masculinity, abuse, and sexual misconduct all laid out to bare. In the changing culture of Hollywood these past couple of years, this dark mark is still there. Just barely suppressed. Because of that, it’s surprising to see a film like The Beta Test in theaters. The film, directed by Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) and PJ McCabe, is a scathing commentary on the Hollywood industry. The film addresses the changing industry and the problems within it. This doesn’t seem like a film that would be green-lit by any studio, without it looking hypocritical in one way or another.
The production of The Beta Test is admirable, something that should be followed by example. Crowdfunded and written, directed, and edited by the same two people, The Beta Test completely circumvents the very system that it is criticizing in the film. Because of this, we have one of the most enthralling, darkly comedic, and thrilling films of the year. The Beta Test follows a Hollywood agent Jordan (Cummings), a self proclaimed hot shot struggling in a post-Weinstein world. Jordan is enveloped into a seedy underworld of infidelity and deception, seeking to uncover the labyrinth of temptation that he has unwittingly become a part of.
Right from its opening scene, The Beta Test reels you in with a mysterious and intriguing setup. Cummings has been on the rise with previous directorial efforts such as Thunder Road and Wolf of Snow Hollow, which both had Cummings in the lead role as well. While these films are more comedic character studies, The Beta Test feels completely different than these two. The film is a psychological thriller more than anything. As Jordan accepts a mysterious invitation to a one night affair, it goes off without a hitch. However, the weeks that follow slowly show him fall apart.
Jordan’s actions of infidelity suddenly cause his already fragile mental state to deteriorate further. His relationship with his fiancé (played brilliantly by Virginia Newcomb) is strained, his work life continues to unravel as he lashes out on his assistant, all while his guilty conscience continues to eat away at him, and even the audience as our perceptions of what is and isn’t happening begins to blur. The editing and acting in this film combine to make for some truly unsettling and at times hilarious scenes.
Cummings and McCabe aren’t only a terrific directing duo, they also share the screen for some of the most hilarious scenes of the film as well. The two manage to create real chemistry onscreen together, along with their co-stars. Each performance feels genuine and filled with layers of emotion, it’s truly impressive. The one who shines the most here, though, is Cummings as Jordan.
Cummings’ performance as Jordan is a high energy and wide smile one, hiding a deep seeded anxiety and insecurity that’s waiting to burst out at any moment. His unnerving line delivery and odd mannerisms can, depending on the context of the scene, be either hilarious or absolutely terrifying. The best part of it all is that Jordan is the one who digs himself into this hole, and, rather than owning up to his toxicity, mistakes, and overall poor attitude, continues to dig himself deeper. There is a particular monologue towards the end that is without a doubt the highlight of the film.
The script and pacing are air tight, with an appropriate runtime that has Jordan seeking to discover the meaning behind the purple envelope that tempted and successfully drew him into a web of lies. Cummings and McCabe try to do a lot with a short runtime, and for the most part they succeed. The film aims to be a scathing commentary on the type of toxicity you can find in the entertainment industry. Although the ending is ambiguous and the overall message a bit unclear, I was still mesmerized by the film. The messages and themes are bold, necessary, and most importantly executed creatively. It is toxic, thrilling, and hilarious all at the same time. The Beta Test is a one of a kind experience. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10
The Beta Test will be available in Theaters and on Demand November 5th