de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

What is it about Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe’s, The Beta Test, that lures and attracts audiences into the psychological disarray that it is? Perhaps it’s the dreamscape-esque environment the film takes place in that is so captivating, or maybe it’s the screenplay that is so alluring, feeling as clever and psychoneurotic as Brent Easton Ellis’ writings. Whatever it may be, this entrancing yet dark film illustrates heavy themes in a familiar way, similar to films like Mulholland Dr. (2001), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), The Neon Demon (2016). Cummings and McCabe tackle intense themes such as toxic masculinity flowing sadistically through the world every day, male fragility, virulent problems spawned from the disturbing Hollywood industry, as well as the technologically dependent world we now live in. The two directors are unafraid to unravel a story representing the disconcerting qualities of the world, and the film uses forbidding satirical writing, very reminiscent of Brent Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. 

The film starts off bleak, setting the tone in a matter of minutes to immediately push you onto the edge of your seat. There’s something about the bone-chilling prologue that will keep you slightly tilted and unable to pull your attention away from the gloomy setting and characters introduced. The beginning of the film is unpredictable and overwhelming, setting the viewer up for a harrowing journey. Shortly after, we’re suddenly introduced to our first character, Jordan Hines, who is currently working as a Hollywood agent and engaged to his fiancee, Caroline. Jordan stumbles across a purple envelope, accompanied by gold calligraphy with his name plastered on the front. Inside is an invitation with a location and date, inviting Jordan to participate in a no-strings-attached sexual encounter with an anonymous admirer. Although unsure for some time, stress from work and his fleeting happiness pushes him to accept the offer. In a series of events, Jordan’s commitment to infidelity begins a psychological spiral and the discovery of a string of lies and murder. 

Berlinale | Archive - The Beta Test | Der Betatest

The Beta Test is uniquely crafted, pushing close-up shots of our characters, and times when shots are pulled back, they are slowly pushing in to convey an unnerving atmosphere. Cinematographer, Kenneth Wales, was capable of transmitting the various tones of the film when necessary and without overdoing himself. The film’s overall tone is nailed down solidly, staying consistent and heavy, barely allowing you to take a breath. Along with the consistent tones and cinematography, the film’s color motifs include light colors that are somewhat drowned out with a tinge of high exposure to capture the nightmare-ish ambiance Jordan is enduring day by day. It’s truly an uncomfortable film to sit through but it is not without purpose as it takes its time to tell you a story, while at the same time fleshing out this neurotic character in a delightful fashion. It is quite entertaining watching our characters having to watch Jordan’s psyche slowly collapsing, pushing for an eventful climax but with an unfortunate twist, the film drags oversimplified philosophy while also dipping more into the psychological genre slightly untastefully. The final act may be moderately disappointing compared to the intriguing first 2 acts of the film, but I’d say it does not exactly dismantle the message or themes the film has been exploring for a majority of the runtime, it’s more or so a slight distraction. 

From beginning to end, there are elements that make up for the flaws dispersed throughout the film, whether it be the satirical writing or the overly entertaining performances. In fact, both directors of this film star side by side, Jim Cummings playing Jordan while PJ McCabe plays his best friend offering a helping hand during these distressing times. The pair have worked on various projects together before, starring in and directing other films like The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020), and The Robbery (2015), and their history together makes for natural and real performances that blend well with the tone of this film. Jim Cummings more specifically, takes his character and turns it into this captivating character study, and his performance feels rather suiting. Cummings outdoes himself wonderfully, creating a character that is so captivating, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of him.

The Beta Test Trailer: An Anonymous Tryst Descends Into Paranoid Chaos

Much like Nicolas Winding Refn’s underrated and sorely misunderstood film The Neon Demon, The Beta Test explores the toxic and problematic social environment of the industry and Hollywood as a whole. There are subtle references to Hollywood exploitation scattered and interspersed throughout the script, and the thematic representation is natural and never feels like you’re being spoon-fed. And the character writing is uncomfortably accurate, with characters portraying manipulative, power-hungry abusers seeking perfection while not even considering the well-being of those around them. Something about the impressive character writing is refreshing and at no time does the film pull back to sugarcoat the intense themes. It instead yanks the thread of misogyny to present the raw realities and behemoths some need to conquer in their lives.  

It’s evident Cummings is a determined filmmaker, with him writing, directing, producing, and even starring in this hidden gem of a film. His genuine work is not ignored and the astute elements that make up The Beta Test are intricately forged and hold depth. And although there are moments in the narrative that are somewhat underwhelming, the general themes and underlying symbolism are expressed subtly. And for the most part, The Beta Test confronts the many toxic traits of social media and Hollywood thoroughly. It’s delightfully obvious Cummings and McCabe have drawn their inspiration from various outlets, but their execution was not a copy and paste of those films, but more of a multifaceted project introducing refreshing new elements alongside tasteful artistic portrayals.