Directors: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
Writers: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
Starring: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Olivia Grace Applegate, and Jessica Barr
The latest film from Jim Cummings, this time co-written and directed with PJ McCabe, is The Beta Test. A striking and disturbing satire about the state of Hollywood in a post #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein world. Cummings presents a story where the old Hollywood is still very much alive, and the toxic masculinity and sleaze is all there to be seen here.
Jim Cummings stars as talent agent Jordan who is juggling his career and upcoming marriage. Everything about his life is fake, from his smile to the car he drives. It’s all a deceit so that everyone else thinks he has his life together. He receives a strange invitation in the post offering a ‘no strings attached’ one night stand, which after some hesitation he accepts. Afterwards he becomes obsessed with finding the woman he slept with, while at the same time his life starts to fall apart around him.
The film starts with a woman who had received a letter coming clean to her husband, who reacts with brutal violence. It’s a shocking opening, that is set up really well. From the moment the scene starts, you know it’s not going to have a happy ending. She is shaking and calling the police, knowing what will happen when she tells him. Even though you know it’s coming, the violence is still shocking, quick and brutal.
The mystery of who sent the invitation is very muddled. It starts out compelling in a strange and obsessive way, but by the time it reaches the big reveal, the spark has been lost. Jordan does everything from lie about having a stalker to impersonate being a police officer. He has some pushback, but his shouting and confidence gets the job done so he can follow the flimsy trail to uncover the truth. It’s just not as interesting as it should be as a thriller. It’s too easy for him and the whole thing feels as artificial as his demeaner, which could be argued as the point of the film.
What makes the film interesting is Cummings’s performance. He is electric on camera, intense and oozing with a disgusting personality. He treats the people around him so poorly that it makes you wonder how he has friends and a fiancé in the first place.
At the heart of the film is the talent agency that Jordan works for. They are becoming obsolete in the new way the world works. The film references Harvey Weinstein only as Harvey, he has become a bogeyman of the industry. It’s an exploration into the toxic masculinity and lack of changes in Hollywood. One of the best scenes in the film is when a potential client rips into Jordan, who just must take it and replies that he likes their honesty, all the time his fake persona cracking. The breakdown that Jordan is heading towards would be interesting even without the letter mystery as a catalyst.
The Beta Test is stylish and brutal. The film loses steam as it goes on and the mystery isn’t very satisfying, but Cummings’s performance keeps you watching until the final moments.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents The Beta Test in cinemas 15 October
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