A mysterious envelope promising an anonymous sexual encounter tempts a Hollywood agent weeks before his marriage, and following through on it throws his life off the rails in ways which have a wider implication than just for his relationship. Where this envelope came from, and who else has gotten them? The answer is bigger than one person’s infidelity.
The Beta Test is an incredibly polished production and a fun black comedy, always looking sleek despite the simplicity of the locations. There’s an energy that the crew are bringing to this, as well as that of the on-screen performers, which comes across strong. This is necessary to justly explore the seedier side of Hollywood that the film tries to encapsulate. Specifically the darker side of ‘tinsel town’, where the harsh reality of exploitation hides beneath the fake veneer sometimes needed to navigate a cutthroat industry.
Credit is due to writer/directors Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe in being able to traverse such sensitive content- navigating real life horrors of toxic Hollywood culture into an engaging narrative. However, that is not to say they are above the odd Harvey Weinstein joke, but it feels fitting within the context of the film. PJ McCabe summed up his work the best when he stated they were going for a vibe of “goofy Fincher” – an description for what the duo was able to craft.
The production offers up an idyllic mash-up of both thriller and comedy – with a healthy helping of lewdness thrown in the mix. Horror fans may not find their full fill here, but there are still some wonderfully tense sequences. Including an opening that is bound to resonate with audiences – an ideal way to set the tone and put the viewer on edge for what is to come next. Furthermore, the strong opening strings itself throughout the film, so, even as the tone turns more comedic there is a dark underlying theme that offers some intriguing twists. Overall, The core concept which unfolds should tickle horror fans, especially, with the inclusion of technology induced anxiety like information harvesting and blackmail.
Star Jim Cummings brings a lot to this role, propelling the snappy satirical material above and beyond what it looks like on paper. His character Jordan is an objectively terrible person in literally every way. Completely false and shallow in his put on friendly demeanour, he’s a horrible person of no redeeming features. There’s no hidden generosity or a “save the cat” moment to set his redemption in process. Except for one key thing: Jim Cummings is fantastically charismatic as this conniving self destructive dickhead of an agent. His performance is non-stop brilliance taking a whole load of turns across the story and no matter how low Jordan’s behavior goes he’s always entertaining. The total ruination of this one man will be sticking with viewers long after the credits have rolled.
It’s funny, it’s sharp witted, it’s culturally relevant, and it can be incredibly yet fascinatingly dark. The opening scene is a definite eye opener and Jim Cummings’s Jordan is an anti-hero you love to see beaten down yet he’s so weirdly charming you can’t help but cheer him on to get back up. Everyone should definitely watch The Beta Test the first chance they get.
We watched The Beta Test as part of Grimmfest 2021
Luke Greensmith is an Editor at the Grimoire of Horror and an active folklorist as well as working in film across a few roles. While this can cover quite a wide range of things, he’s a dedicated horror fan at heart and pretty involved with horror communities both online and local to him. You can find their folklore work on the Ghost Story Guys Podcast, their own LukeLore podcast, and accompanying the artist Wanda Fraser’s Dark Arts series as well as on the Grimoire of Horror itself.