Directed by Layton Matthews Starring Evan Gamble, Cole Smith, & Layton Matthews Indie Film Review by Chris Olson
Last year's deeply effective documentary film The Future of Work and Death was a fantastic exploration of technology's effect on the lives of humans and the role we may play in the future. Plugging ourselves into virtual reality has been an increasingly common theme in movies too; Tron, The Matrix, Assassins Creed to name but a few. All of which tap in (or should we say plug in) to the issues surrounding humanity's relationship with computers and/or technology. Indie film Beta, from filmmaker Layton Matthews, throws its audience into a futuristic world with a 3D computer simulation being tested by a few initial users in order to work out the bugs. The results of which could be worryingly far-reaching and unnerving. Told through flashback, reckless rockstar Jake (Evan Gamble) is first seen explaining to the authorities why he has violated his house arrest after being arrested for lewd and crude behaviour. Jumping back a few weeks, we see Jake struggling with his incarceration, pacing the rooms of his house like a caged animal, and angrily denouncing his celebrity “friends” and lifestyle. Fortunately, Jake is given a new virtual reality video game to test which not only cures his boredom, but also allows him to escape - if only his mind. Once in the virtual world he meets Natalie (Cole Smith) who shows him around, in more ways than one. For a science fiction film, Beta also contains a large quantity of romance, with the relationship between Jake and Natalie taking centre stage. Regrettably this was delivered with quite a bit of clunky dialogue that felt hackneyed and overly sentimental. Jake's roguish personality is quickly shed for a more heroic lead which was pedestrian and disappointing. The narrative attempts to get more thrilling in the final third but by then it's mostly done using techy exposition between Natalie and AI guru Wade (Layton Matthews), who go into lots of detail about the game’s makers. Some of the filmmaking was impressive, in particular the blending of the "real" world with that of the game. The smart transitions, ethereal composition, and retro special effects felt cohesive throughout and skilled. Aesthetically there was a lot of promise here, although the light techno sound design was only mildly fitting and nothing to rave about. The sharpest pang of disappointment is felt when Matthew's film opts for a more mainstream love story over the plethora of other more unique stories which could have been told using this world and these characters. Heavier themes could have been explored, and something more affecting for the viewer. Sadly, rather than a solid and engaging fantasy film that deftly grapples with modern fears of technological advancement, Beta is a more televisual drama about the self improvement people can make when they find the right person...a tale as old as time and will fit alongside a million other movies like an army of droids.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Beta below...