Film Review: Jim Cummings’ The Beta Test

Jim Cummings’ The Wolf of Snow Hollow quickly saw him gain favour with genre fans with writer, director and actor proving a handsome triple threat. His hotly anticipated return, The Beta Test, moves slightly left-field of the horror genre delving into a blood-soaked paranoid infused conspiracy thriller. Cummings’ film is an engaging piece with a narrative that draws us in with the right amount of mystery, thrills and sharp intrigue.

Co-directed and written alongside PJ McCabe (who also takes on a supporting role), The Beta Test centres on Jordan (Cummings) a soon to be married agent who receives an anonymous letter inviting him for a night of infidelity. The agent gradually becomes ensnared, growing obsessive about the meeting, and who exactly set it up. Consequences begin to ripple through to Jordan’s relationship and work life breaking down his finely moisturised mask of perfection.

Jordan makes a point of sharing at a client’s party that the image of agents in Entourage is not realistic – opting to explore the soulless façade of Hollywood and those brokering the deals in The Beta List. Obnoxiously charming (with no sincerity behind it), imposing yet inherently weak, and living a lifestyle driven by image (captured in a leased Tesla), Jordan holds a multitude of agent clichés just waiting to unravel. The authentic relationship he does have with his fiancé Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) is one of the few genuine things in his life – making his desire to chaotically cling to this all the more desperate after he repeatedly accepts nights of blindfolded infidelity with a mystery woman

The Beta Test plants numerous seeds of intrigue throughout and generally keeps us invested in these for around two-thirds of its runtime. Jordan’s initial unease turns to temptation yet after the rendezvous transforms into sheer panic, paranoia and self-destruction. Watching the façade of Jordan’s life gradually slip (from amusingly mishearing assistants to frantically tracking down delivery drivers) makes for often quite captivating – occasionally quite exhausting, viewing. There are throwbacks to nineties erotic thrillers and the seductive no-strings-attached hook-up is shot with a steamy dimly-lit sensuality by cinematographer Kenneth Wales. Yet the versatile cinematographer proves an equally dab hand at turning scenes of domestic bliss into bloodbaths as The Beta Test delves into other couples facing a similar predicament to Jordan and Caroline – often with fatal aftermaths.

A booming orchestral score with a frantic string set heightens the unease and unwinding panic that ripples through Jordan’s journey to uncover the identity of those behind the arrangement. The latter-stages do prove somewhat unsatisfying as wider conspiracy themed elements come into play – especially compared to the sharpness of the prior acts yet nonetheless Cummings is enjoyable to watch layering the events with a dark sense of humour amidst the crumbling mask of charm and frantically bubbling paranoia.

The Beta Test is another success for Cummings. He and his collaborator McCabe have crafted a dark satire with a rippling tension and sharp intrigue that successfully reels us in for the most part.

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents The Beta Test in cinemas on 15 October.