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Film Review: ‘The Beta Test’ Skewers Hollywood’s Culture and Toxicity with Precision

IFC Films
IFC Films

Hollywood is filled with awful men. This is no particular surprise, but it’s something the world, and especially women, deal with on a daily basis. In Hollywood, there’s also the agent culture, where assistants are treated, often by men, as almost subhuman. Occasionally, a film has tackled this sort of thing, but not nearly as much as you’d expect. Now, along comes The Beta Test, a movie that skewers it head-on, assaulting toxic masculinity and the culture in Hollywood, as told through almost an erotic thriller lens. The result, which I saw back at the Tribeca Film Festival, is an interesting flick that defies almost all expectations.

The Beta Test again sees actor and filmmaker Jim Cummings tackle a potentially basic premise in a wholly unique cinematic manner. Previously, Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow could easily have been simple and forgettable movies, but Cummings has way too quirky a mind for that. Here, he’s doing that again, but with much darker subject matter. Still, he manages to have black comedy fun with it, and that’s no small achievement, considering the material.

IFC Films

Young Hollywood agent Jordan Hines (Cummings) appears to have it all. His relationship with Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) is the envy of many, he has a great job, and projects nothing but confidence. Of course, much of this is performative. His master of the universe act is part of a larger toxic environment he’s a part of, but the arrival of a mysterious letter is about to plunge him into something much more toxic than he’s ever considered.

The letter, which comes in a purple envelope, is an invitation to a one-time anonymous sexual encounter. The concept of a no-strings attached fling compels Jordan so much he doesn’t even really question why he was picked, or what the sender has in mind. One blindfolded encounter (for both parties) later, he’s feeling pretty good about himself, not giving the circumstances a second thought. Soon, he’ll wish he had. I won’t say more about what happens, but his veneer of cool will come down, along with potentially much more.

IFC Films

Jim Cummings again turns in a strong performance playing an odd character. He looks the part of this sort of guy, but still leans in to his worst features. The performances are big, not just from Cummings, but also Virginia Newcomb, but they work. Cummings and company know the movie they’re making, that’s for sure. The cast also includes PJ McCabe in a supporting role, alongside Jessie Barr and others.

Co-writers/co-writers Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe skewer the industry with The Beta Test, but they’re also looking at a certain type of man. Cummings’ script for Thunder Road may be a bit sharper, his direction for The Wolf of Snow Hollow a bit crisper, but this combination really hits the right notes. Combined, the flick shows off his talents in just the manner needed to make a potentially off-putting premise into something truly compelling. If the central mystery isn’t wholly important or particularly essential to the story they’re trying to tell, it still shocks you. However, the main purpose here is to engage in satire, and that is where they really do shine the brightest.

The Beta Test is further proof that Cummings (alongside McCabe this time) are unique talents. No matter the subject matter, Cummings has a singular perspective that makes his films worth checking out. This one is no exception. If you’ve liked any of his previous movies, this one should be no different. It’s compelling, unusual, and well worth giving a shot to!

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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