Starring Manu Bennett (Arrow), Larenz Tate (Ray) and Linden Ashby (Teen Wolf), sci-fi action film Beta Test has it own somewhat unique take on how video games are affecting the times we live in. The film’s basis is interesting and taps into America’s obsession with conspiracy theories by carrying a plot that tells of a conspiracy created by a huge company. Beta Test also causes its audience to think, providing some interesting commentary on real-world issues.
Tate plays Max Troy, an award-winning video game player who is charged with testing a brand new game by Andrew Kincaid’s (Ashby) company Sentinel. When his bank robbery mission appears as a story on the news, it doesn’t take long for him to realise that his in-game decisions are having real life consequences. Max has no choice but to continue the game, despite the very dark (and maybe unnecessary) things it forces him to do.
Behind the scenes, Sentinel has kidnapped Orson Creed’s (Bennett) wife and forced him to become a participant. Thanks to a piece of technology attached to Creed, Max is able to control him in real life, all while thinking he’s just playing a video game. The film features clever switching between Creed’s viewpoint and the perspective of what Max initially believes to be a video game character.
Tate, who spends most of the film in the same room, perfectly captures the emotions of Max and manages to carry the film. And those familiar with Bennett’s work on Arrow will easily see why he was chosen for the role of video game hero. The New Zealander takes part in what is at the moment the longest single-take fight scene of its kind in history, which lasts around eight minutes – it’s pretty impressive, to say the least. Unfortunately, the villains pale in comparison to the two heroes. They simply don’t have as strong of a presence as Bennett and Tate, and while Kincaid’s plans are diabolical, Ashby’s delivery isn’t what it could be.
A film like this is able to make the audience think about what violent video games could look like if they were being executed in real life. At the beginning of the film, Kincaid speaks to an interviewer about whether there’s a link between gun violence and video games; a wise inclusion, since it’s a debate that has been long-standing in our society.
Despite its few flaws, Beta Test delivers suspense in each of the game’s ‘missions’ and has two leads that give the plot the humane angle it sorely needs. And there’s clear meaning on offer too; interesting commentary on the themes of power and violence, especially at the hands of the one percent.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10