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The Beta Test Grimmfest film review

★★★★

Directed by: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe

Written by: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe

Starring: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Jacqueline Doke

Grimmfest Film Review by: Darren Tilby

 


 

The Beta Test is very much a Jim Cummings film: his signature is all over it (although he features, for the first time, as co-writer and co-director to PJ McCabe, who also stars in the movie). Any fans of his previous works will feel right at home here: the biting socio-cultural satire and jet-black humour remain, as, too, does the man-on-the-edge performance that Cummings does so well.


This time in the guise of successful, happily married Hollywood agent Jordan, whose life is flipped upside down after an anonymous sexual encounter. Existing in a time of digital data and hypocrisy, which seems to condemn the individual for such behaviour, but simultaneously allows immoral business practices to take place without question, Jordan becomes entangled in a web of deceit.


As is typical of Cummings’ films, there’s an incredible central cast (Cummings, McCabe and Newcomb all give solid showings), backed by an eclectic and fascinating cast of side characters, all of whom are important to the plot to varying degrees. There’s not an underwhelming performance, piece of poorly written dialogue, or a misdelivered line to be found anywhere, and Jordan, who had every chance of being boorish and unpleasant, becomes a kind of tragic anti-hero. The co-writing also works so well here, with both Cummings and McCabe's influences keenly felt within the on-screen, best-friend relationship between their respective characters; it's always a joy to see their interactions.


But as is also typical of Cummings’ films (as with The Wolf of Snow Hollow), this movie benefits from repeat viewings: it’s not always clear precisely what is going on or why; the product of a confusing narrative structure. But things do fall into place after a couple of viewings or a bit of pausing and rewinding here and there. The humour is also very particular—it’s not for everyone. If you’re already a fan of Cummings, you’ll likely be fine here. Even so, the humour on display is jet black: it’s in the tragedy of our hero’s life situation and the brutal honesty of its scathing takedowns. Tonally there is a bit of a disconnect at times: the humour can occasionally feel awkward as it clashes with some of the more brutal scenes (the beginning is a particularly unpleasant experience). But there’s no denying that this is a superbly well-written film, perceptive and rife with sharp and incisive wit; Cummings and McCabe have done a superb job here.


I always look forward to a new Jim Cummings film, and this didn't disappoint. The cult status he’s built up over the last few years attests to his talent as a filmmaker; and here, prominence is given to McCabe as a rising talent behind the camera, as well as in front of it. The Beta Test might not add anything new to this formula, but then if it's not broken—why fix it?

 

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