The Beta Test (2021) EIFF Exam
The beta test (2021)
Directors: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Writers: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
With: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcombe, PJ McCabe
As a beacon of hope for the independent film community, there is no one better suited than Jim Cummings to expose Hollywood’s bottom line to obnoxious corporate jacks. After winning the Best Narrative Feature Award at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival with his frenzied Kickstarter-funded comedy-drama Thunder road, Cummings proved that it is possible for amateur creators to bypass Hollywood’s money-thirsty guardians and use their talents to infiltrate the film industry. Since the beginning of Thunder road and his erratic follow-up horror-comedy feature film, The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020), Cummings has become a beloved presence in independent filmmaking, his relentless passion and undeniable talent transcending the limits of his budgets.
Its latest feature, The beta test, while being very much in the same vein in terms of energy as his two previous feature films, it’s a surprising step for Cummings as he continues to find his way into the industry. Co-written and co-directed by Cummings and PJ McCabe, the film follows Jordan (played by Cummings in another starring role), a soon-to-be-married Hollywood talent agent whose polished exterior and dazzling white veneers suggest a life of wealth. and success. Yet while Jordan drives a Tesla, has access to a lavish spending account, and yells “I’m excited” multiple times during each conversation, his crisp exterior is just an elaborate masquerade. In fact, Jordan flounders in the changing climate of Hollywood after the fall of Harvey Weinstein. As the Writers Guild of America battles parasitic talent agents like him for power, Jordan has fewer opportunities to sell his “packages” and capitalize on the film industry with ideas like “reboot. Caddyshack with dogs ”. On top of that, it’s not even like he can let off steam by yelling at his employees anymore.
Jordan’s life goes off the rails with the arrival of an ornate purple envelope, which contains an anonymous invitation to a non-binding sexual encounter with “an admirer” if he answers. After worrying about the invitation and its possible author, Jordan fills out the RSVP, ticks off its desired flaws, sends it in the mail, and then receives a second letter containing a hotel key card. Moved at the idea of entering a forbidden world of sex and anonymity, he shows up at the designated hotel and shares a blindfolded night of passion with a complete stranger. However, once the encounter is over, the letters stop and Jordan, after tasting the desire that changes the universe, becomes utterly consumed by the question mark towering above him and falls into an erotic rabbit hole in the shape of a “Twilight Zone” full of murder, mystery, manipulation, data collection, consumerism, greed and luxury stationery.
A handful of murderous subplots serve as the backdrop to Jordan’s quest as he realizes he’s not the only one who has received a mysterious proposal. There are people all over LA who are brutally murdered after confessing their romantic adventures to their cuckold partners. Consumed by this frightening but eerily sexy situation, Jordan eventually discovers that the “Internet” is using his online footprint of clicks, likes and Facebook updates to take advantage of his desires, and he goes wild in frustration as he goes. fights against algorithms for power.
In his two previous feature films – playing a divorced, mustached small town cop with a falling apart relationship with his daughter and a spiraling werewolf hunter in the face of his father’s impending death – Cummings has shown proof of this. of a formidable talent for walking the thin line between comedy and tragedy. For such a typical, all-American guy, Cummings’ comedic timing has a British sensibility, mimicking the familiar deadpan and absurd sarcasm of Steve Coogan. Cummings played small fry cops with big old chips on their shoulders in his previous two feature films, but with The beta test, he returns his gun and badge for glitter and glamor. However, we still face the same thematic consequences of toxic masculinity, failure, and self-esteem exhaustion – Jordan is an impostor and a con artist; his life is cool and seems organized on the outside, but he is driven by a sense of sociopathic ego and a severe paranoia that plagues him from the inside. What people can perceive is his only concern: a glance inside his mouth reveals that only his visible teeth are white and healthy; his posterior molars are black and rotten.
While, as with his previous characters, he is seen playing a very visibly defeated man, Cummings’ performance in The beta test is much more obviously internal. In Thunder road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow, his characters are easily adorable. With Jordan, he delivers the same portrayal of a worn out man at the end of his rope, but there’s an insidious element that comes out of his heart, which is an intriguing bet to make such an endearing presence on screen. The obvious comparison is Jim Carrey, with whom Cummings shares a strange resemblance both in appearance and in physique. There came a point in Carrey’s career when he traded comedic blockbusters for more esoteric work: Man on the moon, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Flawless Spirit and more recently, Joke. While Carrey was still able to peddle his usual shtick in these films, his work in these films is much more valuable and rewarding to watch as a viewer. Cummings finds the exact same sweet spot, managing to get us on board with his unpredictable silliness while providing deeper thematic meaning for each of us to chew on.
The beta test is a gripping watch and gripping thriller, with a chilling score that wouldn’t seem out of place in horror. Sadly, it suffers from a few tonal disparities throughout, with the series of violent murders and the disturbing portrayal of online consumerism not merging with Cummings’ scathing punches against Hollywood elitism. Additionally, the movie might not work for anyone without looking at the inner workings of Hollywood; it’s definitely one for moviegoers. For fans of this unique filmmaker’s work and those interested in the machinations of the film industry, Cummings’ performance corresponded to Beta tests neurotic hilarity, making this another successful self-taught movie star.