A satisfying thriller with enough smarts always goes down well. The Beta Test is just that, there’s enough being said to make it worth listening to and the plotting is thrilling enough (if muddled). Both elements feed into each other nicely and the finale cements the message nicely while feeling cathartic. The whole thing is a job well done, and a return to form for star, co-writer and co-director (alongside PJ McCabe) Jim Cummings (whose first film, Thunder Road, was truly something special).
This is all about Hollywood agents, it’s a time’s up narrative about the last days for the men who knowingly entered this hellhole to ‘be like Harvey’ (a direct reference that keeps coming back). The film is very knowingly written, with much of the more pointed and shocking dialogue pulled from actual records of what these people say. In covering this, the film captures a male fragility, focusing on Jim Cumming’s protagonist who feels the world is out to get him and that the new world is going to catch him out. What the film proves is that these people bring on their own damnation and only fear consequence, and that things aren’t so different. These cycles repeat. Men repeatedly abuse power and think they are unique.
The preceding points are revealed via a thriller plot about our protagonist, who is engaged, responding to a letter promising no strings attached sex and no consequences. The metaphorical wrapping is blunt but, as a narrative conceit, it is fun. The film perhaps puts a foot wrong at the start, opening with a context free femicide, in brutal fashion, but the shocking nature of this does at least foreground the film’s approach to the men in it: they are predators. From this point onwards, the plotting gets a bit muddled and is thinner than you’d expect, but it does enough to keep the viewer hooked while carrying a consistent message.
It is perhaps not a tight thriller, but it is an effective one. Cummings gives an excellent performance in which he allows himself to be detestable, and realistically so. He is the film’s heart, as usual, and the film fits snugly around him. It is a film with limitations but it provides food for thought, and is uniformly well put together.