The Beta Test (3 stars)

The Beta Test

As part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Jim Cummings brings his unmistakable energy to an enjoyable if uneven post-Weinstein Hollywood satire

Writer-director-actor Jim Cummings follows Thunder Road and The Wolf Of Snow Hollow with this darkly cynical indie that's part erotic thriller, part Hollywood satire and part character study. Sharing writing and directing duties with co-star PJ McCabe, Cummings plays soon-to-be-married Hollywood agent Jordan Hines, whose life is turned upside down when he accepts a mysterious, purple-enveloped invitation to a no-strings, anonymous sexual encounter.

With both parties blindfolded, the event is everything Jordan had hoped for, but anxiety sets in and he finds himself spiralling down a rabbit hole of obsessive speculation and paranoia, suspecting every woman he sees of being his partner in the tryst. Cummings' portrait of post-Weinstein Hollywood is thrillingly scabrous, identifying a whispered but palpable hankering for the pre-MeToo world among the alpha males of a toxic talent agency. 'You really did this?' asks Jordan's incredulous work colleague PJ (played by McCabe). 'In this climate?'

The film is anchored by Cummings' intriguingly layered performance. In particular, his unique method of delivery – also evident in previous films – makes it seem like he's saying every thought out loud, like a motormouthed version of Tourette's. That pays off nicely with some of the dialogue, making his studio pitches seem like blackly comic stream-of-consciousness ramblings: 'we've just signed Tiger Woods as director; we're going to reboot Caddyshack with dogs,' he spews at one point.

Unfortunately, a thriller angle struggles to match the satire's bite and The Beta Test remains frustratingly uneven throughout, with the fate of other recipients of those purple envelopes teasing a horror element that never materialises. Similarly, the film's eventual revelation lacks its intended impact. That said, there's still plenty to enjoy here, from off-the-wall one-liners ('nobody's called Johnny PayPal') to a superbly deployed orchestral score, while an unsettling atmosphere of general weirdness seeps through the edges of every frame.

The Beta Test, Filmhouse, Saturday 21 August, 3pm, £10 (£5–£8); selected release in cinemas from October.

The Beta Test

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US / UK
  • 1h 33min
  • Directed by: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
  • Cast: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe