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Sex, paranoia, murder and Hollywood: Everything in ‘The Beta Test’ somehow makes sense

Jim Cummings stars in “The Beta Test,” a satire of Hollywood power dynamics within a muddled yet attention-grabbing thriller.

Cummings wrote, directed and starred in the film alongside PJ McCabe. “The Beta Test,” released Nov. 5, follows Jordan Hines (Cummings) and his spiral into a spell of paranoia after engaging in an anonymous sexual encounter six weeks before his wedding to fiancé Caroline (Virginia Newcomb).

Jordan, alongside friend PJ (McCabe), works for a Hollywood talent agency that is all sorts of shady. Their business practices are questionable, and Jordan knows it, but that does not keep him from acting like he is all that and a bag of chips. 

Behind his façade of being successful in his job and happy in his engagement, Jordan struggles with addiction, work stress and temptation upon receiving his invitation to this secret sexual meeting. His paranoia following the mysterious rendez-vous left him suspicious of every woman he comes across and obsessing over questions such as: who set up the encounter? Who sent the fancy invitations? Who was the woman? How were they matched? Why him? Why now?

Several of these questions I still do not fully know the answer to, given the somewhat wandering flow of the film and the seemingly tacked-on ending.

However, do not let my uncertainty steer you away from this film. “The Beta Test” had my jaw on the floor from the end of the opening scene to the closing credits, and yours will be too. Cummings and McCabe so successfully captivate the audience’s attention, even amongst any confusion, so you will be wanting to make sense of the satirical digs at the film industry and twisted nature of the thriller, much like myself.

When asked about the inspiration for this film — one that is so nuanced and admirably complex — and how it all came to be, Cumming said this in an interview:

“[The idea for “The Beta Test”] became this thing about lying and cheating … and then it also became about big data and how the internet is changing the landscape of [talent agencies] that used to be social networks … it was about stress and about people [like Jordan’s character] grasping at straws for the last bit of power they could get.”

For a film that was shot in just eighteen days by two independent filmmakers that became buddies over a decade ago at Emerson College, “The Beta Test” exceeds any and all expectations of a typical low-budget film. The film weaves the themes of stress, paranoia, infidelity and murder together throughout the storyline with an unprecedented insight to what parts of the entertainment industry are actually like. The ruthless jabs towards Jordan and his job, along with his ridiculous interactions with his coworkers, will catch you off guard in the best way possible. 

I would be remiss to not mention Jordan Hines as a candidate for Twitter’s white man of the month: he’s charismatic (when not losing his mind) and has the brown hair and chiseled features of nearly every protagonist in Hollywood — not to mention how he’s a compulsive liar, a secret vape GOD and a lowkey psychotic paranoid narcissist. Essentially, he is the total package deal. 

If you have already finished Season 3 of You and are looking for another character as manic, obsessive and morally questionable as Joe Goldberg, then “The Beta Test” should be next on your watch later list. 

What is next for Cummings and McCabe though? Could it be another film as strange as this one? If you are thinking “No, of course not,” you would be wrong. A potential future project of the two Emerson alumni is a “Victorian horror comedy romance buddy film set in 1895,” according to Cummings. Take from that what you will. However, if you think about how bizarre the concept of “The Beta Test” was — and how impressively it turned out — then keep the work of Jim Cummings and JP McCabe on your radar. These two are not to be overlooked.

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