James Jay Edwards

The Beta Test Tests the Boundaries of Its Own Identity

(The Beta Test, courtesy IFC Films)

James Jay Edwards reviews The Beta Test, a dark comedy thriller film written, directed, and starring Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe. (IFC Films

 

There are basically two types of mystery movies. Most involve someone, usually a detective or a private investigator, trying to solve a mystery that has happened (or is happening) to someone else. And then there are the creative ones, such as D.O.A. and its many iterations, where the hero needs to figure out who has done something to them. The Beta Test falls into this second category.

The Beta Test is about a Hollywood agent named Jordan (Jim Cummings from Halloween Kills) who seems to have it all; he’s got a job at a top firm, a vibrant social life, and a lovely fiancée named Caroline (Virginia Newcomb from The Death of Dick Long) whom he loves very much. But when he gets a strange letter in the mail promising an anonymous, no-strings-attached sexual encounter, he still takes the bait. He soon gets wrapped up in a world of infidelity, murder, and dark-web technology that he may not survive.

 

(The Beta Test, theatrical release poster, courtesy IFC Films)

The Beta Test is the work of writers/directors Jim Cummings (who plays the lead) and PJ McCabe (who also plays a role in the movie as Jordan’s best friend). It owes a big debt of gratitude to David Fincher’s The Game, although it’s a bit simpler and much less compelling. It’s pretty much Jordan trying to figure out who set him up with something he actually wanted in the first place, then getting frustrated as the solution to his problem isn’t as easy as everything else in his life has apparently been up until that point. He follows the breadcrumbs that lead him to everywhere, from the manufacturer of the distinct purple envelope in which the correspondence came to the minimum-wage delivery boy who drops off the illicit invites. And no one is telling him what he wants to hear, no matter how much he lies to, screams at, and threatens them.

The biggest problem with The Beta Test is that there is literally no empathy with the “hero” of the story. And it’s not like he’s an obvious anti-hero like American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, he’s a guy with whom the audience is supposed to sympathize, yet he’s a downright prick for most of the movie. He’s a prick to his coworkers, he’s a prick to his friends, and, worst of all, he’s a prick to his fiancée. When bad things happen to him, he pretty much deserves them.

 

(The Beta Test, courtesy IFC Films)

There’s a weird vibe to The Beta Test. At times, it seems like a comedy but never commits to the humor with both feet, so it just comes off as awkward. Cummings gives off huge Patrick Bateman vibes, but unlike in American Psycho where Bateman is clearly a satire of commercialism and consumerism, The Beta Test treats its comedic beats as Jordan just losing his mind in frustration and anger. While audiences laugh with American Psycho, they laugh at The Beta Test. And they do it for all the wrong reasons.

 


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Here’s the part where I tell you that The Beta Test is not a bad movie. And it’s not. It just doesn’t quite know what kind of movie it is, so it floats aimlessly between being a modern mystery, a horror flick, and a screwball comedy. And it doesn’t do any of it particularly well. For her part, Virginia Newcomb is terrific, playing essentially the same overly-understanding significant other that she played in The Death of Dick Long. But everyone else in the film, Cummings and McCabe included, are cartoons.

 

(The Beta Test, courtesy IFC Films)

The Beta Test is a one-note mystery with low stakes. Even worse, it’s one that cops out on its ending. And we’ve seen movies like that before, but they’ve at least had a few ah-has in them. While there’s a fun idea behind The Beta Test, it never really gets rolling and mires within its own identity crisis. Its biggest mystery of all is why it can’t even figure itself out.

The Beta Test is in theaters and on demand now.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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