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  Beta Test, The For The Likes
Year: 2021
Director: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Stars: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Kevin Changaris, Olivia Grace Applegate, Jessie Barr, Christian Hillborg, Malin Barr, Jacqueline Doke, Wilky Lau, Ammar Aldieri, Raji Maroun Ayac, Ivan Bernal, Sam Breen, Meredith Casey, Bryan Casserly
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jordan (Jim Cummings) is a high-flying Hollywood agent, making deals is what he does and getting rich off the back of his clients by being the middleman is how he does it. But how satisfied is he? For the man who seemingly has it all, isn't there anything more he could want? He is about to be married to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) in a few weeks and wedding preparations must be taken care of, but when a purple envelope arrives in his PO Box promising no strings attached sex with a perfect stranger - and they do mean perfect - he is intrigued. Is he intrigued enough to jeopardise his upcoming nuptials? And did someone get murdered recently?

That last bit is important, as the film actually opens with a wife asking her husband for a divorce and getting stabbed and thrown off a balcony for her trouble, a strong hint we were in the modern dystopia genre where contemporary life is in fact a form of Hell, or maybe Purgatory considering how this plot resolves itself. There are signs early on that this will be one of those mysteries where a solution is withheld as the credits rolled, but writers and directors Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe decided not to cop out, therefore there really is a solution to this conundrum of who sent Jordan his invitation to commit adultery with no chance of getting caught.

Of course, one of the points is that even the most Machiavellian of schemers and evildoers cannot help giving themselves away eventually, and Jordan is so easy to read that it's plain to see he is up to something as after he accepts the offer of sex (a blindfolded encounter - he catches a glimpse of the woman as she really is, however) he is a mess of tells that prompt Caroline's suspicions to be raised. Not only that, but he tries to bluff his way through work by acting like the alpha male - Harvey Weinstein's name is invoked, and not ironically - when as the title suggests he is more the beta type, as we see when he meets an actual alpha Chinese businessman.

Said businessman, Raymond (Wilky Lau), humiliates Jordan at a party, even sexually harrassing him, but Jordan simply grins and bears it because he knows where he stands and wants Raymond's account. This was in some respects one of those Hollywood Hell movies, where Tinseltown is presented as so toxic that by the end of it you will be wondering why anyone would tolerate such conditions, unless it was to exercise power in petty microaggressions or outright bullying maxiaggressions. Such stories have been around since the inception of the industry, and if here the levels don't quite reach Day of the Locust disasters, there are hints this is precisely where we will end up as the internet steps in to take a stranglehold on society.

Jordan turns detective rather swiftly when he fears he has been had, and bluffs and blusters his path through semi-comical investigations with people just trying to do their jobs and have no idea what he's talking about, but the impression is they have to manage encounters with assholes like our antihero every day, and be polite about it to boot. The film takes great delight in Jordan cracking up, and there is a sadistic streak in subjecting him to his living nightmare of suspicion where anyone he meets could be behind his victimisation. We have to ask, does he deserve this? He does reach a reckoning in the final act, but it's a reckoning the story implies we will all face, it's a by-product of having a presence on the internet where our search histories, purchases and likes are all mined for their data to sell ourselves to faceless corporations. In ominous fashion, The Beta Test tells us a social apocalypse is coming if we continue this, which is more arresting than watching an asshole's redemption, but Cummings is such a singular personality on the screen that you almost don't notice. Music by Jeffrey Campbell Binner and Ben Lovett.

[Blue Finch Film Releasing presents The Beta Test in cinemas 15 October 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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