I Write These Movie Reviews Locked in the Trunk of Your Car. Thanks for the Snacks!!
Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
The new horror/comedy/thriller The Beta Test that doesn’t really have any horror or thrills but has generous helpings of dark comedy asks the universal question, “Would you have an anonymous tryst if you got a letter stating you could have an anonymous tryst with no repercussions?”. Goodness knows you’ve asked yourselves that countless times, especially if you’ve been quarantined for months at a time.
The Beta Test is the new film from writer/director Jim Cummings (The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Thunder Road), and if you remember Snow Hollow, you know it’s a werewolf movie that mostly succeeds in being a different kind of werewolf movie. Cummings likes to upend expectations, and with The Beta Test, is somewhat successful. You can’t fault him for trying.
The Beta Test opens with a Swedish couple from Sweden in a Los Angeles apartment complex from LA around dinnertime. The nameless wife places a phone call to 911 reporting a domestic dispute despite nothing actually happening. She doesn’t look happy. The husband doesn’t look happy. This is going to be a wonderful dinner.
Man complains to wife about some petty thing.
Wife tells husband she’s not happy and that she got a purple envelope in the mail that said she could have an anonymous tryst in a hotel and after everything was done the parties would remain strangers. Wife said she went through with it and it only underlined how unhappy she was with husband and now she wants to leave him.
Husband responds by stabbing her repeatedly and throwing her over the balcony onto the asphalt. So, no dessert.
The Beta Test opens for really reals with our main character Jordan (writer/director Jim Cummings). Jordan is a douchey Hollywood agent, but he belongs to one of the smaller offices (called APE, if you want to read into it) trying to compete with the bigger agencies. Jordan and his partner PJ (co-writer/co-director PJ McCabe, apparently too busy to think up a character name for himself) are workaholics, Jordan knows he’s going to have to slow down for the next couple of months.
Why? Because Jordan is getting married to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) in 6 weeks. They seem really happy together and really meant for each other and if you were asked, you’d say that no two people were meant to be together more than d-bag Jordan and that poor woman Caroline. She’s trying to get a wedding planned. He’s trying to keep his business afloat.
But we believe in the power of love and know that nothing will—
Then Jordan gets a purple envelope in the mail.
Jordan opens the envelope. In fancy calligraphy, it states that he is cordially invited to a fancy LA hotel to have an illicit rendezvous with a complete stranger. It even has a nice little checklist where he can state his personal proclivities when it comes to the bedroom (e.g. top- check, light slapping- check, animals- check).
Just kidding about the animals.
Jordan wants to throw it away but doesn’t. After about 20 minutes of looking at it but really an hour he puts in in the trash.
Then after 2 hours he goes digging through the garbage and finds it again.
After minutes (really seconds) of agonizing consideration, Jordan goes to the swanky hotel, puts on a blindfold, and goes through with everything he feels like. The other party involved is blindfolded as well. So secret. Nothing will go wrong.
No, you’re looking at the previous review of Lamb.
Because Jordan really does love Caroline, he feels nothing but guilt. He swears this was just a one time thing, just something to quench his extreme curiosity and that it will never happen again because—
And then Jordan goes to the hotel at least 2 more times if the montage is accurate.
For Jordan’s sake, he’d better hope all of this is out of his system, because little does he know that some of his wealthier clients and prospective clients have gotten purple letters. And have gone through with the trysts.
And have ended up murdered.
What Works With The Beta Test
- Jim Cummings’ magnetic performance (he was also in the flashback of Halloween Kills) as the awful human being Jordan. There’s very little to like about Jordan as a person, but Cummings performance makes him never less than compelling. Cummings does light physical comedy and oddly timed line readings, keeping you off guard with humor from unexpected places. You don’t like Jordan for most of the movie, but Cummings makes him empathetic enough that you kind of want to see him redeemed.
- The Beta Test- Once you find out what the beta test is, it’s diabolically ingenious in a sick and twisted way because it’s plausible enough to work in real life depending on the circumstances. It’s the best piece of writing from Cummings and PJ McCabe. You wish the rest of this movie were this acute.
What Doesn’t Work With The Beta Test
- As stated before, The Beta Test is labeled a horror thriller with elements of comedy. But I couldn’t remember a time I was actually scared, and “thrilled” is stretching it. It’s most successful as a satire when it actually is effective.
- At a shade over 90 minutes of running time, The Beta Test feels about 20 minutes too long because the film is all over the place. There are so many ideas thrown at you and some of them aren’t fully developed. The domestic scenes with Jordan and Caroline do nothing but slow the movie down because they’re so generic compared to the purple letter story. It’s never a slog, but there are times when you do feel like you’re spinning your wheels.
Jim Cummings remains an idiosyncratic filmmaker and fascinating new voice in cinema. The Beta Test is an interesting idea that stalls in execution. You should watch it because it’s different from most movies, even when it doesn’t work. And you can only see the new Marvel movie so many f*cking times. Mildly Recommended.