I really loved Jim Cummings’s first two films, but this is just . . . fine. The trailer had me a bit skeptical but trailers are frequently deceptive.
Clearly inspired by the Ashley Madison leak and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Beta Test focuses on a guy at the centre of an attempt to harness our social media footprint for a sleazy hookup scam. But the film is largely about where this is going. There is a pervasive sense of dread, like what is this matching algorithm designed to do? Is it designed to give people satisfying hookups? Is it designed to provide opportunities for blackmail? Is it designed to break up couples? Or even target those likely to end in violence?
And that’s something I will say, right up top there is a piece of extraordinary, horrific domestic violence. A scene which seems to be there purely for the shock value and to grab the audience’s attention. Unpleasantly unnecessary and gratuitously explicit.
So I watched The Beta Test thinking what about it didn’t work the way Thunder Road and Wolf of Snow Hollow did. Firstly, the main character is not a good guy. The character humour in the other two stemmed from the fact the guy was essentially trying to fulfil all these good roles, father, son, lawman, and failing due to some flaw or vulnerability. They acted like an asshole, but their goal was not be an asshole. The main guy in The Beta Test, Jordan, is an asshole. He both is an asshole and his goal is to be a bigger asshole. He’s not really sympathetic in any way, and he lacks that raw vulnerability that made Cummings’s other roles so tragic.
Also, there’s no heart in the film to anchor anything to. In Thunder Road, it was his relationship with his daughter, and in Wolf, it was his father and his kid. There was this central relationship that was actually valued and which was vitally important to the main character. It gave stakes to the main character’s actions and a sense of their motivation and priorities. In Beta, you have no idea what Jordan actually wants. Does he actually love his fiance? Is he just looking for any way out of that relationship?
Also, the character starts way too manic, it gives them nowhere to go. It makes them seem like they’re just a loon, as opposed to showing them slowly loosing it as the tension of the film ramps up.
So you have a main character, who you don’t know what he wants, facing off against this shadowy sex ploy instigator, who you don’t know what they want, for stakes that are unclear.