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VOD Review: The Beta Test

November 5, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A twisty Hollywood-set thriller involving purple envelopes and anonymous sexual encounters, The Beta Test is the latest feature from innovative DIY filmmaker/actor Jim Cummings, and it’s a darkly enjoyable and engaging showbiz satire that has something to say.

Cummings stars in the film as Jordan, a slick Hollywood agent who is basically an empty suit. He speaks in industry buzzwords, and presents a very specific image to the world. Jordan is in the midst of planning a wedding to his fiancée (Virginia Newcomb), but his priorities lie with trying to woo a Chinese businessman (Wilky Lau) to ink a packaging deal with his agency.

The hook of the film is the mysterious purple envelope that Jordan finds one day in his condo mailbox. Inside is an invitation to an anonymous, no strings attached sexual encounter in a hotel room, and a card for him to fill out checking off his various desires and fetishes. He goes to the hotel room and is met with a blindfold on the door handle, which he wears as a masked woman fulfills his fantasies, only catching of glimpse of her when he removes his mask to leave the room.

At first, Jordan is energized by the encounter, but becomes increasingly paranoid as he tries to figure out the woman’s identity and who sent the invite, sending him down a weird rabbit hole. It’s an intriguing, Eyes Wide Shut-esque setup, that allows The Beta Test to play out with a certain manic paranoia. Is he being blackmailed, or being taken advantage of through some sort of online scam? Jordan is determined to find out, and doing so allows Cummings to compellingly portray his downward spin.

Like in Thunder Road, the remarkable single take short and subsequent feature adaptation that put him on the map and served as a powerful calling card for his talents as a director and actor, The Beta Test gives Cummings another opportunity to play a character who falls apart as the film goes on. As Jordan spirals further into a modern world of no privacy, where image is everything and digital data is used as currency, Cummings does a good job of keeping us intrigued, capturing a sense of going crazy as his character unravels and his performance becomes more unhinged.

The screenplay, which was co-written by Cummings and PJ McCabe, who also co-directed the film and co-stars as Jordan’s colleague and friend, is filled with rapid fire dialogue and Insider Hollywood talk. It not only functions as a thriller, with a genuinely unsettling domestic violence hook that opens the film, but also as a scathing satire of how agencies operate.

The film has a lot to say, maybe even too much for its barely ninety minute running time. But The Beta Test offers a pretty wild ride with performances and writing that keep us fully engaged, as Cummings and McCabe dole out sharp social commentary on Hollywood vanity and greed, the fallout of the #MeToo movement, and business interactions in a post-Weinstein world.

The Beta Test is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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