There isn’t a single movie quite like The Beta Test out right now–I’d be hard-pressed to find one. Written, directed, and starring Jim Cummings (Thunder Road, 2018) and PJ McCabe, the film chronicles the emotional unraveling of a soon-to-be-married Hollywood agent Jordan Hinds. At the start of his breakdown, Hinds receives a purple envelope containing an invitation to clandestinely spend the night, no strings attached, “with an admirer.” After that act, and as the days go by, Jordan’s paranoia begins to break into his life and career. He stumbles upon a sinister industry underbelly where infidelity, murder, and data mining come together to create chaos.
A Genre-Bending Mystery and Commentary on Human Guilt and Regret
On paper, it definitely sounds like an erotic thriller in the realm of Derailed or Unfaithful. The subject of the film engages in adultery and regrets it when the consequences put his life and world in danger, you know the drill. As you watch the film, however, you quickly realize that there’s more inside the envelope snd that’s worth looking into. The Beta Test is a genre-bending exercise in anxiety and discomfort. The film blends mystery, comedy, psychological drama, and techno-thriller into an explosive cocktail that explores so many themes in 93 minutes. And if finds success at every single thing it attempts to say.
Cummings exhibits this absolutely manic energy that walks a tightrope between dark comedy, cringe humor, and realistic emotional volatility. His character Jordan isn’t just performative chaos though. He’s a linchpin that connects the many pitfalls of the film and television industry’s many vices that its enablers will do anything to uphold and protect. From sexual harassment by professional acquaintances in casual networking spaces to keeping up an exhausting appearance 24/7 (with a dash of callous indifference to public emotional abuse in the workplace), The Beta Test seems to cover it all without making the message preachy.
Yes, It’s Political. But That’s the Point of the FIlm
The sociopolitical aspects Cummings and McCabe aim to explore are an integral part of the story. It works even if the film’s main arc seems to focus on infidelity and/or extramarital affairs, and how the well-to-do deal with them. People cheating on their spouses and significant others are only part of the problem. The rest is the idea that the privileged who engage in these behaviors and enable them can get away with them, and everything else by proxy.
But isn’t the film also a comedy? Yes, essentially it is one, but the humor doesn’t represent “comedy” the way modern popular cinema sees it. The Beta Test is more grounded and chaotic, taking audiences from a volatile reaction to anxiety, discomfort, and pure vulnerability. Much like Cumming’s debut directorial feature Thunder Road, the film’s most singular feature is how it consistently succeeds at dialing the self-aware cringe humor up to eleven, bringing it all to a breaking point. If you’ve been hooked so far, this will leave you an emotional mess, chuckling, cringing, and having your heart go out to an otherwise morally grey and often unlikeable protagonist. At the end of the day though, it’s not about the likability (or the lack thereof) of the protagonist or a commentary on infidelity. It’s about so much more.
The Relationship Themes are Important as Well
The Beta Test actually an ambitious, hypnotic, and funny—but mostly heartbreaking—window into how a system that enables taking undue advantage of power slowly molds a man into a monster. He worsens while chasing the very idea of unlimited immunity from the consequences of his terrible behavior. It’s about overcompensation, paranoia, and the relentless need to turn into the persona people create by putting all of Dale Carnegie’s corporate self-help books in a blender and drinking its muddled, homogenized smoothie till you break and can’t consume any more.
It’s about interpersonal relationships, and the inability to have one when you’re switched on for every second of the day. It’s about the colleagues you’re surrounded by, who won’t stand by your side when you’re publicly being verbally abused in a workplace by your superior. And, when it’s all done and dusted will just shrug and say, “Hollywood,” almost like it acquits systemic abuse and toxic behavior in the workplace. It’s about the internalization of said abusive behavior when you’re trying to land an assignment. An uncomfortable exchange between Jordan and his potential client leads to the latter sexually harassing the former, who can only get himself to unconvincingly say, “It’s funny. Love that.”
It’s About…A Lot More
More than anything else though, The Beta Test is about how what happens when a mask of wealth, luxury, and confidence consumes a person. A single crack is all it takes to fall into psychological chaos. Acting almost like a follow-up to Mary Harron’s 2000 film adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, this film turns even more inward, internalizing the external. It makes your mind a noxious space in which you surround yourself with—and internalize—all your worst traits, and let them fester until you lose yourself to them completely.
The Beta Test is unforgettable, uncomfortable, and unmissable. It dares to give you answers more uncomfortable than the questions it asks against the rules of a world where, according to an emotionally volatile Jordan, “Nobody knows what’s going on, and everybody wants to be Harvey.”
The Beta Test is available on VOD and On-Demand platforms.
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