I reviewed Thunder Road from Jim Cummings at Glasgow Film Festival two years ago. Back then, I was impressed at just how excellent his feature debut was. He returns to the actor/director dual jobs for his third feature, The Beta Test, which just had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
He’s teaming up this time with PJ McCabe (co-director and star) for this mysterious thriller. The film follows a recently engaged Hollywood agent who receives a random purple envelope in the mail inviting him to have a sexual encounter. But, of course, after going through with it, he quickly becomes obsessed and manic over who is behind the scheme, which also might be an excuse to rage over how shit his life truly is deep down.
You could look at this as if Entourage had a coke-fuelled baby with a supped-up film Noir. The film is incredibly intriguing, with its central mystery around this envelope being highly engaging. It throws twist after twist where you don’t fully know what will happen next. Predictability has become somewhat of a plague with recent mystery films, and this just flies things at you, so you have no clue.
It really is one of those films that pulls you in and then refuses to spit you out for 90 minutes. It has the most breakneck pace in the best way possible, refusing to waste even a minute of its runtime on something unnecessary. It’s so tightly packaged that it’s just incredible to witness.
Its intrigue is only anchored by its cast of zany characters, led by Cummings himself, who are fantastic in their roles. Cummings has a bit of a penchant for playing characters that are a bit weird and somewhat unlikeable. This time around, he goes full unlikeable. The character’s work leads him to have endless amounts of fake relationships, laughs and, in many ways, life. It provides a set-up for great laughs, but you either pity his patheticness or hating him with all your heart. You see the world through his eyes, but you end up being actively repulsed by his goings-on and day to day life.
The socio-political commentary seems to be spot-on for an indie film today. It’s trying to have a say on the necessity of agents in the current Hollywood rigmarole. Who, for all intents and purposes, seem to be leeching as much money as they can, in any way they can – making him even more unlikeable in the process.
Overall, The Beta Test is an intriguing and funny film. It doubles as a good mystery and a fascinating character study and warning for the rich and elite in Hollywood but balances the two equally to create something truly unique. Jim Cummings does it again. An excellent movie.
The Beta Test had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It is set to be released by Blue Finch Releasing in the UK in October and by IFC Films in the US in November