'Beta Test': Film Review

Beta Test Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Mirror Images Ltd.

Beta Test Still - Publicity - H 2016

Strictly for gamers, and even they may have problems with it.

A videogame tester discovers that the violent action onscreen is taking place in real life in Nicholas Gyeney's sci-fi thriller.

A videogame turns into deadly reality in Beta Test, Nicholas Gyeney's high-tech thriller starring Manu Bennett (Arrow) and Larenz Tate. Depicting the violent mayhem that ensues when the security chief of a video game company is forced to become the protagonist in a virtual game, the pic should appeal to gamers tired of poorly conceived Hollywood movies adapted from best-selling titles (Warcraft, I'm looking at you). Still, the thriller doesn't quite hit its mark, its ambitions undercut by its limited budget and choppy execution. It's ultimately not nearly as frightening as the current Pokemon Go craze.

The story's villain is Kincaid (Linden Ashby), the CEO of the video game company Sentinel who is first seen giving a television interview in which he advocates gun control, arguing that the only weapons accessible to ordinary people should be the ones in his games. But his public stance is merely a cover for his true plans to conquer the world, using his games to create an army of mind-controlled warrior slaves.

Shortly afterwards, Orson Creed (Bennett, exuding testosterone), the company's security executive who wants to bring Sentinel's advanced technology to the U.S. military, has his home broken into by his employer's goons who kidnap his wife (Sara Coates) and, while he's unconscious, plant a miniature device in his neck.

We’re then introduced to Max (Tate), an agoraphobic gamer/product tester who is about to check out Sentinel's hot new offering. Aided by a friendly tech support worker (the voice of Brandy Kopp), he begins playing the violent game whose criminal central figure is involved in, among other things, a bank robbery and a school shooting. But much to his horror, Max soon discovers that the shocking events onscreen are actually taking place in real life and that he's in control of what's happening. When he refuses to continue playing, dire consequences are threatened.

It's an intriguing setup, albeit one bearing more than a slight resemblance to the 2009 sci-fi thriller Gamer starring Gerard Butler. But director/co-screenwriter Gyeney infuses the pulpy material with some clever touches and considerable stylistic daring. The latter is typified by an elaborate fight scene, which the press notes proudly declare is the current record holder for the longest such sequence shot in a single take. It's certainly impressively choreographed and filmed, although it emphasizes technical virtuosity at the expense of realism and credibility.

Beta Test is also more than a little distasteful in its eagerness to exploit real-life tragedies for dramatic purposes, from its inclusion of 9/11 footage in an opening montage of alleged conspiracies to its scenario in which the protagonist helps a school shooter, who's just mowed down innocent children, escape. On a more prosaic note, dedicated gamers, to whom the film is clearly being targeted, will scoff at the outdated visual style of the graphics on ample display. 

Distributor: Screen Media Films
Production: Mirror Images
Cast: Manu Bennett, Larenz Tate, Linden Ashby, Kevon Stover, Sara Coates, Yuji Okumoto
Director: Nicholas Gyeney
Screenwriters: Nicholas Gyeney, Andre Kirkman
Producers: Nicholas Gyeney, Andre Kirkman, Larenz Tate
Executive producers: Kevon Stover, Shelley Stepanek, Lahmand J. Tate, Larron Tate
Director of photography: Michael Boydstun
Production designer: Kat Audick
Editor: Jay Somsen
Costume designer: Ronald Leamon
Composers: Amir Derakh, Ryan Shuck, Anthony Valcic

Not rated, 88 minutes