The Fest faces a big Test as the hotly anticipated The Beta Test makes its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
A married Hollywood agent receives a mysterious letter for an anonymous sexual encounter and becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lying, infidelity, and digital data.
It is obvious from that start that Jordan should just ingnore the mystery invitation. However, of course he responds. A) because otherwise there is no movie. B) because he is getting cold feet regarding his upcoming nuptials, he thinks he can get away with it and, let’s be honest, he’s a man.
Jordan’s problems escalate when he develops the tiniest scrap of a concience. He sets out to make sure his fiancee never finds out but also who was behind the invitation.
On one level it is a feature length update of the episode of Friends where Ross has to “think about the trail” and prevent Rachel from finding out about the copy girl while they “were on a break”.
On the other it is a paranoid descent into the vaccuous Hollywood underbelly. One powered by lies, deceipt, money and power. With all its subterfuge and conspiracy theories, it is reminiscent of another recent L.A. mystery Under The Silver Lake.
Jim Cummings, pulling triple duty as co-writer & co-director, is excellent as a man who seemingly has it all but life quickly spirals out of control. His not-so-quiet desperation is externalised verbally, emotionally and physically in a performance that is pitched perfectly to the material. There is one specific head movement in response to an unexpected revelation that, in that single moment, is a complete encapsulation of his character.
He may not be the most empathetic protagonist, however the direction and tightly wound screenplay keep the audience in the dark as much as Jordan as to the truth. This allows for the viewer to become invested in him solve the mystery in spite of his shortcomings.
Cummings is one of the US’s most exciting talents thanks to Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. His work here with P.J. McCabe cements that promise.
The Beta Test is a film that will provoke much discussion regarding its themes and the resolution of its mystery. In Cineworld terms, it passes the “tasty debrief” test.
Director: Jim Cummings & P.J. McCabe
Stars: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, P.J. McCabe
Runtime: 93 minutes