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The Beta Test (2021) – Review: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe Have Crafted an Excellent Stress Comedy

October 23, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – A – The Beta Test is another nerve-racking film from director/writer/editor/star Jim Cummings. After Thunder Road, The Wolf of Snow Hollow and now The Beta Test, Cummings has perfected the art of the cinematic anxiety attack.

Filmed on a $250,000 budget, the independent feature by co-directors Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe finds humor and horror in the internet, Hollywood, relationships, masculinity, and paranoia. Cummings’ 2020 movie The Wolf of Snow Hollow successfully combined alcoholism and anger, with lycanthropy. Now, not content with only combining a few elements, he brings the world a tale about a Hollywood agent who has a sexual encounter with a stranger, and slowly begins to meltdown into a paranoid maniac who lies, cheats, drinks, and raises his voice many times. Under the mindful eye of Cummings and McCabe who wrote the script, then recorded the dialogue as a podcast to fine tune the monologues and jokes, the descent into madness feels organically orchestrated and you will find yourself melting into your seat as the lead character Jordan (Cummings) keeps sinking into an endless inferno that he created.

The movie focuses on Jordan, a hotshot Hollywood agent who drives a Tesla, has beautifully tailored suits, and an adoring fiance who puts up with his 24/7 work schedule. Jordan is one of those guys who desperately wants to appear rich, but he’s living outside his means, and realizes that the days of the Hollywood agent won’t last in an era where foulmouthed alpha males and their shenanigans are becoming obsolete. His life is turned upside down when he receives an anonymous letter informing him that he can have a secret sexual rendezvous with a stranger. After some initial trepidation, he has the tryst, and quickly becomes paranoid about every word spoken to him, or look he receives. From there, he starts investigating the letters, and it leads to a world of freakouts, yelling, and hammer attacks. It gets to the point where your body becomes tense when Jordan simply starts talking to someone, because you know he’ll either start lying, or be forcefully removed after attempting to impersonate a cop. 

The cinematography by Kenneth Wales does a fine job of maximizing stress, as it knows when to simply focus on Cummings, who is an expert at portraying someone who is falling apart without grace. Also, the editing by Cummings, who on the Empire Podcast said that he has been fine tuning the edit for well over a year, is excellent because it isn’t easy creating such a stressful atmosphere. The entire package (which agents would love) is solid, and if you’re into Cummings very particular brand of stress comedy, you will find a lot to love in The Beta Test.

The biggest issue with The Beta Test is that it tries to blend in too many genres into its 94-minute running time. It’s a Hollywood satire, a dark comedy, an erotic thriller, a meditation on the internet, and a mystery. Throw in some brutal murders (the opening is gnarly), and a whole lot of cringe comedy, and you have a movie that is slightly overwhelming, and doesn’t totally deserve its ending, as it happens so quick. Depsite the overhwelming ingredients, it still deserves the A-rating because it’s a singular vision (mostly singular, PJ McCabe helped a lot), that is wildly unique, and loads of fun to watch.

Final Thoughts: Watch Thunder Road, The Wolf of Snow Hollow and The Beta Test now!

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