The beta test

The beta test
Running time:91 minutes
Director:Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Release date:05 november 2021
Jordan Hines, a successful Hollywood agent about to get married, receives an anonymous letter inviting him to a mysterious sexual encounter. His world of lies and sinister digital data streams begins to crumble.

Mulder's Review

On the bangs of Hollywood productions, American independent cinema never ceases to surprise us and above all is capable of offering perfectly mastered films with a true screenwriter's vision. In this sense, the third film of the talented Jim Cummings (Thunder Road (2018), The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)) and the first one he co-directs and co-writes with PJ McCabe is one of the best discoveries of this 47th edition of the Deauville American Film Festival. We must admit that Jim Cumming is a gifted actor who is as comfortable in front of the camera as behind it, writing a script or in the editing room. Each of his films in which he plays the lead role shows a real willingness to break away from the mold of Hollywood standards to deliver films that are perfectly mastered and above all remain faithful to his vision of today's society, whether it's a dramatic comedy, the irresistible Thunder Road, a horrific thriller The Wolf of Snow Hollow that cleverly reinvents the slasher and werewolf film or here a comedy close to the paranoid thriller. 

Jordan Hines (Jim Cummings) is a successful Hollywood agent who is about to get married. However, he receives a strange invitation in the form of a mysterious letter proposing a blind sexual encounter in a large hotel in Los Angeles. Without knowing it, he will find himself in a real trap and will have to find a way to reconstitute this puzzle while saving his couple and his very well paid job in a big talent agency.  Such a scenario will remind some of the atmosphere of an excellent episode of Twilight Zone or Black Mirror even if the inspiration of the director and screenwriter Jim Cummings seems to come from Stanley Kubrick's cult film Eyes Wide Shut with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and also the atmosphere of Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers. Thus from the first minutes of the film the atmosphere is planted and we witness a scene of rare violence in which a couple confronts each other.

While director Jim Cummings could stay in a comfort zone and propose a new dramatic comedy, he prefers here to change the tone and revisit in his own way, with the help of writer and director PJ MCabe, the backstage of Los Angeles. We follow the journey of a Hollywood agent forced to find an explanation for the wave of murders that has hit Los Angeles and the identity of the person who sent him this strange invitation. In the same way, The Beta tes draws a very well targeted caricature of the superficiality of Hollywood. Jordan Hines seems too perfect in appearance, but behind his sly smile and his nice rental car, there is an individual ready to do anything to succeed and win many contracts. 

As in his previous films, Jim Cumming takes care of the photography, the direction and the editing of this film and doesn't hesitate to place some perfectly percussive dialogues on the Hollywood environment ready to do anything to get a maximum of money from an audience addicted to films that seem to flow from the same mold and from the same ideas and concepts that are constantly repeated to take no risks. In the same way, it is interesting to see how the film looks at marriage and the fact that it appears in American society as an ostentatious sign of social success, like a trophy that one would put on a wall. The two directors and screenwriters Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe show a real maturity to draw up a very acerbic caricature of the world of Hollywood agents who are ready to do anything to get new clients, even if it means making fools of themselves in public in front of their clients, showing the stupidity of certain "packing deals" proposed by these agents and which seem to find their purpose only in the sense of getting them to pay a maximum of money.

Jim Cummings played in Thunder Road a policeman in full burnout following the death of his loving mother and who shares the custody of his daughter after his divorce with his ex-wife. His character, despite his many flaws, was endearing and deserved a second chance. Jordan Hines on the other hand is a narcissistic Hollywood agent with a huge ego who treats his assistant badly but also doesn't realize how lucky he is to have such a charming and caring wife. His will to succeed at all costs makes him think only of himself and has not built a life outside his work. Finding himself trapped, he will not only have to open up to others but also give real meaning to his life. The beta test is as fascinating as it is compelling in the way it mixes genres and shows Los Angeles in a new light. In this city, violence seems to be omnipresent, whether it is a woman throwing her belongings off a building or murders that are as original as they are particularly violent, The Beta Test constantly hits the mark.

If the plot also highlights the omnipresence of social networks and computers to guide our lives and our addiction to new technologies, it never forgets that man is his own enemy by listening to his instinct and not his reason. The slow descent into hell of Jordan Hines shows that he has entered a universe that he no longer masters, that he has lost part of his mojo along the way. The excellent interpretation of Jim Cummings once again makes us adhere totally to The Beta test and that we only have one desire after having seen it, to see it again. To say that we are waiting for the new films or projects of the genius that is Jim Cummings is an understatement. The beta test is a new undeniable success of a true artist supported here by his close friend PJ MCabe to deliver a thriller with undeniable charm and perfect rhythm.

The Beta Test 
Written and directed by Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Produced by Matthew Miller, Natalie Metzger, Matthew Miller, Benjamin Wiessner
Starring Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Jessie Barr, Wilky Lau, Olivia Applegate, Jacqueline Doke, Kevin Changaris, Malin Barr, Christian Hillborg
Music by Jeffrey Campbell Biner & Ben Lovett
Cinematography : Kenneth Wales
Edited by Jim Cummings 
Production companies : Vanishing Angle
Distributed by IFC Films
Release date : November 5, 2021 (United States)
Running time : 91 minutes

Seen on September 9, 2021 (press screener)
Seen on September 11, 2021 at the Casino Cinema (Deauville)

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