Grimmfest: The Beta Test (2021)

Directors: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Certification: 15

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

This feature from co-writers/directors/stars Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe opens in an intriguing manner. A frightened-looking woman calls the police about a domestic dispute, yet everything around her seems peaceful. Shaking with fear, she goes inside to sit with her husband for dinner, where he moans about the fake-nature of fame. It's then the woman plucks up the courage to admit she's unhappy and there's someone else, her last confessions before her husband commits murder.

With his wedding day a few weeks away, Hollywood agent Jordan (Jim Cummings) receives a purple envelope inviting him for anonymous sex. He discards it only to find the possibility of the invitation lingering in his mind. As his wedding day approaches, the "what if?" question lingers, and ensnares Jordan into a sinister world of lying, infidelity, and digital data.

Desperately attempting to fit into the Hollywood lifestyle, Jordan constantly puts on a flash persona which cracks as he becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the envelope. Cummings does fantastic work bringing Jordan alive, capturing the characters insecurities which are masked behind fast-talking and an eagerness to get ahead. This showy act puts up a wall with his fiancée, Caroline (Virginia Newcombe), who wishes Jordan would engage her instead of treating her like another fake business relationship. Newcombe captures how dissatisfied and at a distance Caroline feels, ensuring she's more than just another sad-wife trope in a man's story.

The setting casts a look at this industry when the spectre of "Harvey" hangs over, as Hollywood agents are focused on working and acting in "this climate". Their words to prospective buyers are reassurances to distance themselves from the public toxicity, yet it's all evidently hollow as they haven't learned anything or grown, they're just even more worried about getting caught.

Scenes keep popping up of unfaithful spouses meeting an untimely end, an element which builds up the mystery as to what's going on. By the end, this feels like an unnecessary component which just ups the body-count in a tale where the revelations don't match the anticipation. A late reveal arrives intent on not spoon-feeding the audience, although the good intentions are met by an unfortunately fumbled handling. Regardless, this remains a humorously sharp critique of toxic masculinity and Hollywood.

The Beta Test played at Grimmfest and is in cinemas now