Sometimes, when you are not sure whether that what you’re going to be watching really is a horror, despite it being tagged as such, turns out to exceed your expectations, and you end up not even caring if it’s a horror. The Beta Test, a new mystery thriller comedy, as I would describe it, is one such case.
The comedy here is not reaching out for the audience of American Pie or My Spy; the actor in the lead role Jim Cummings (who also co-wrote and co-directed the film together with one of the other actors PJ McCabe) looks as if he was Jim Carrey’s apprentice who learnt everything from his teacher except for facial expressions, and is dealing with situations that altogether are a satire about a number of things: interpersonal relationships in an office of a business, issues of a male boss, infidelity, digital matchmaking, as well as cliches and film ideas in general. This latter one might even be the main reason why I didn’t feel like I wasted my time watching something I thought is going to be horror, but really isn’t.
I like when situations such as kissing and having sex with a random stranger without ever taking off the blindfold are sold shamelessly to me as if that was something as regular as a night out with your wife. I mean, the sheer cheek of that idea is just fascinating. I wonder what would dear old Alfred (the one who’s Hitch) have said about this if he was still around today making films? This thought somehow entered my mind after I watched the third murder scene in The Beta Test because it seemed as if there’s a strong Hitchcock influence present in the film. Knowing how patient and diligent the legendary filmmaker was when it came to developing situations of mystery, that sort of cheek could even be something he might have attempted as a fun of creating parody that's in tune with the age of Internet trolls and their culture. Also, did you know that apparently impersonating federal officer is a simple task to accomplish if you really need some details for your own investigation – people readily believe anything you are telling them about you and your interest in their business... Here’s why The Beta Test doesn’t fail with something that ludicrous – it uses it consciously and only on certain occasions, and when that happens you know it’s deliberate.
At other times there are entirely different reasons for being stunned by what The Beta Test offers. Enter the scene with Jim Cummings, Olivia Grace Applegate and Virginia Newcomb at a diner, which is already an hour in the film – if there ever was a scene where a face played a major role, it was this one, and the face was that of Ms. Applegate – it’s not even about the length of time Ms. Applegate’s face is on the screen; and it’s not so much about the sequence of camera angles either as much it’s about the context of the situation.
Someone may remember the actress from Terence Malick’s Song to Song. And some of Malick’s work may come back to you when noticing what and at what times The Beta Test CUTS TO; from the point of view of direction it just doesn’t really fancy being a seamless experience.
One thing The Beta Test doesn’t make fun of though is the reality of visitor and customer data collection by various online companies – this is something writers have managed to integrate craftily in the plot here; in The Beta Test this part is even more informative than one would normally expect from a comedy, so next time someone says to you they are not concerned about what data where and by whom online is kept of them, perhaps consider making a recommendation to watch The Beta Test because you never know, perhaps you spared that someone a whole lot of trouble of dealing with an issue of stolen personal details.
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