Review by Camden Ferrell
Jim Cummings has made a name for himself in the independent film scene, winning awards at SXSW and Sundance among others. His new movie, The Beta Test, is his third feature film since 2016 and his first feature collaboration with PJ McCabe. The movie is clearly bursting with passion behind screen from its creators, and its satirical attack on Hollywood is enjoyable even if it hits some snags along the way.
Jordan is an engaged Hollywood agent. One day, he receives a letter for an anonymous sexual encounter. He soon finds himself ensnared and obsessive in a world of lying, murder, and infidelity. This is a very original premise that is crazy enough to support its themes and interesting enough to engage audiences.
The script, written by Cummings and McCabe, is strong. The dialogue isn’t always perfect, but the film has its fair share of hilarious rants, mostly from its main character. Some of its commentary can be a little too on the nose, even for a blatant satire of Hollywood. Regardless, there’s a lot to commend in the script and how it lays down a solid framework for the movie to move along at a mostly steady pace.
The acting in this movie is a little all over the place. Cummings leads the film as Jordan, and he is a delight to watch. He has an uninhibited energy in his character that will elicit quite a few chuckles from audiences. However, the rest of the cast never really matches this energy or achieves great chemistry with Cummings.
The film very much feels like an indie film in the way its shot. This is only the second feature shot by cinematographer Kenneth Wales. It’s sufficient but not perfect. However, it does show a lot of promise for his future. There are a handful of really cool moments of composition throughout that show his potential for visual storytelling.
One of the main charms of the movie is how it’s clear that everyone on and off screen is passionate about the project. I think it’s obvious to tell when people have fun making a movie, and this is a prime example. Especially with Cummings, it’s clear that there is some true passion backing this project, and it translates well to the audience, and it’s very enjoyable.
Despite all of the great things happening in this movie, it does hit a few snags in its latter half. As our main character dives deeper into this sinister world, the movie’s pacing can get a bit erratic and throw off the fast-paced comedy we had previously. It doesn’t derail the entire movie, and it slowly gets back on track, but it is something that prevents it from becoming great.
The Beta Test is a fun indie movie from Cummings and McCabe, and it’s a funny and biting criticism of Hollywood and the shallowness that is present in it. It may not be for everyone, but I think most audiences will find something to enjoy in its wackiness.
The Beta Test is in select theaters and on VOD November 5.