Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, the dark comedy/drama “The Beta Test” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A hard-driving Hollywood talent agent tries to find out who wants revenge on him after he was lured into a one-night stand where he cheated on his fiancée.
Culture Audience: “The Beta Test” will appeal primarily to people who think that it’s entertaining to watch a relentlessly obnoxious main character in an easy-to-solve mystery.
“The Beta Test” is a one-note satire that’s filled with misogyny and has a mystery that’s so easy to solve, it insults viewers’ intelligence. Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe co-wrote and co-directed this shrill ode to toxic masculinity, as if they think it’s somehow automatically artistic to make a movie where almost everyone is selfish, idiotic or annoying in ridiculous ways. The problem is that the story is so weak and repetitive, the movie stomps along tediously until the “plot twist” (which isn’t much of a surprise) is finally revealed to underwhelming results.
Cummings stars in “The Beta Test” as Jordan Hines, a hotshot Hollywood talent agent who finds himself trying to cover up the fact that he cheated on his fiancée Caroline Gaines (played by Virginia Newcomb) when he had a blindfolded one-night stand with an anonymous stranger in a hotel room less than two months before his wedding. (Jordan and his sex partner both wore eye masks during their encounter.) After Jordan and Caroline get married, whoever knows about his infidelity tries to anonymously threaten Jordan until he feels that his life is in danger.
The fling happened under unusual circumstances because Jordan was propositioned to have this fling by getting an anonymous mailed invitation. The invitation said that an attractive “admirer,” who has never met Jordan, wanted to have a one-time, “no strings attached” sexual encounter with him. The invitation also said that the hotel room was already paid for in advance. The time and date for the tryst have also been pre-arranged.
Everything about this invitation screams “setup,” but Jordan takes the bait anyway, like a fool. The invitation was engraved and in a distinctive purple envelope, so the movie wastes a lot of time showing Jordan being an amateur detective trying to find out where the invitation was printed and other clues to the sender’s identity, after he starts to get anonymous threats that his fling will be exposed. Jordan becomes so consumed with finding out who sent the original invitation and these threats, he becomes paranoid and starts verbally lashing out at people.
Jordan is yet another loud-mouthed, crude and abrasive character that seems to be Cummings’ specialty whenever he writes, directs and stars in a movie. (Cummings did a similar schtick in his 2020 horror film “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” but at least that movie had better characters overall and a mystery that wasn’t as easy to figure out as the mystery in “The Beta Test.”) It seems like Cummings watched a lot of HBO’s “Entourage” episodes and decided to rip off the hostile and rude Ari Gold agent character in “Entourage” (for which won Jeremy Piven several awards, including three Emmys) and do a less-entertaining version of Ari Gold in “The Beta Test.”
Ari Gold wasn’t the main character in “Entourage.” Unfortunately, Jordan Hines is the main character in “The Beta Test.” There’s a very dull subplot to “The Beta Test” where Jordan and his business partner PJ Pruitt (played by McCabe) are desperate to boost their business by signing a wealthy, middle-aged investor named Raymond Lee (played by Wilky Lau), who’s playing hard-to-get.
One of the problems for Jordan and PJ in getting this sought-after potential investor is that Raymond takes an instant dislike to Jordan. At a business party, Jordan tries to charm and schmooze his way into Raymond’s conversation. But Raymond coldly dismisses Jordan by telling him: “We don’t need agents pretending to be producers. You are a dying social network, and everyone can’t wait to see you fall apart.”
“The Beta Test” seems to poke fun at the type of culture where men in positions of power abuse their power and cheat on their love partners with willing or not-so-willing “admirers,” who think they’ll get career advancement or some other perks from these sexual encounters. At the same business party, Jordan tries to ingratiate himself to Raymond by downplaying the aggressive and abusive reputation of Hollywood agents. “We’re not the angry bulldogs ‘Entourage’ makes us out to be,” Jordan says to Raymond. “A lot of that industry aspect left with Harvey [Weinstein].”
On the surface, “The Beta Test” is a movie that seems to be supportive of the #MeToo movement. But as the movie goes on, there’s a noticeable and gleeful delight in showing Jordan’s increasingly unhinged misogyny and boorishness. For example, Jordan often goes on verbal tirades against his administrative assistant Jaclyn (played by Jacqueline Doke), whom he hallucinates is asking him inappropriate questions about his sex life. He also angrily confronts a woman (played by Olivia Grace Applegate), whom he’s sure was his blindfolded sex partner in the hotel.
Eventually, viewers find out that Jordan wasn’t the only person to receive a mysterious invitation to cheat on a loved one in an anonymous, blindfolded sexual encounter. The other people also received their invitation in the same type of purple envelope. Other people in the Los Angeles area who accepted the invitation have met a gruesome fate, including a Swedish woman shown in the movie’s opening scene. “The Beta Test” sets everything up to make viewers wonder if Jordan will meet the same fate.
All of it is just filmmaking posturing that attempts to cover up a poorly conceived mystery. If you think about who would have a motive to get revenge on a cheating lover, it’s not hard to figure out who would be involved in setting up Jordan. And this movie is hardly a “thriller,” since there’s not much thrill or suspense in watching Jordan’s dumb outbursts and bullying. The end of the movie leaves no doubt that although “The Beta Test” is pretending to skewer a sleaze such as Jordan, who disrespects and degrades women, the filmmakers really love that Jordan says and does what he wants—so much so, they let him off the hook for being so awful.
IFC Films released “The Beta Test” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 5, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, the horror flick “Halloween Kills” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Serial killer Michael Myers is on the loose again and will murder anyone who gets in his way.
Culture Audience: “Halloween Kills” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that care more about creating bloody murder scenes than creating any suspense or an interesting story.
“Halloween Kills” is an apt description for what this boring slog of a horror movie does to further destroy the already damaged “Halloween” franchise. It also commits the unforgivable sin of confining “Halloween” icon Laurie Strode to a hospital for most of the movie. Horror movie aficionados will find nothing scary about this cynical cesspool of lazy filmmaking, because “Halloween Kills” is just a series of gory murders thrown into an incoherent and flimsy plot.
The 2018 “Halloween” movie indicated that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character (the most famous survivor of mask-wearing serial killer Michael Myers) would return to the franchise as an active hero doing battle against Michael Myers, who is also known as The Shape. The movie also introduced Laurie’s estranged daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) and Karen’s daughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak) into the mix, to make this hunt for Michael Myers a multi-generational family mission. At the end of the movie, Laurie and Karen had begun to mend their relationship, with Allyson being somewhat of a bridge between the two.
In “Halloween Kills,” which picks up right after the 2018 “Halloween” movie ended, any expectation that Laurie, Karen and Allyson would join forces is shattered. The three women spend most of the movie apart from each other. And when they are together, they often bicker with each other about who should or shouldn’t go after Michael Myers, who has returned to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to wreak more havoc on Halloween night. (“Halloween Kills” was actually filmed in North Carolina.) Meanwhile, men dominate in the planning of vigilante mob actions that play out in “Halloween Kills” in the most ludicrous ways.
David Gordon Green directed 2018’s “Halloween” and “Halloween Kills,” and he co-wrote both movies with Danny McBride. Jeff Fradley was the third co-writer of 2018’s “Halloween,” while Scott Teems was the third co-writer of “Halloween Kills.” It’s difficult to know if replacing Fradley with Teems is the reason why the quality of the “Halloween Kills” screenplay took a noticeable descent into moronic hell. The 2018 “Halloween” movie is by no means a classic horror flick, but it’s an exceedingly better film than the dreck of “Halloween Kills.” The director is chiefly responsible for how a movie turns out, so it’s disappointing that Green chose to coast off of the success of his “Halloween” movie and churn out such a formulaic and unimaginative dud with “Halloween Kills.”
Simply put: “Halloween Kills” wallows in the worst stereotypes of awful horror flicks. Characters go into a house alone to try and confront the extremely dangerous killer on the loose. When opportunities come to capture or kill the murderer once and for all, characters stand around talking to (or screaming at) the mute psycho killer Michael Myers, as if they think striking up a one-way conversation with him will suddenly turn him to a reasonable, law-abiding citizen. (In “Halloween Kills,” Michael Myers is portrayed by three actors: James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle in the 2018 scenes and Airon Armstrong in the 1978 scenes.)
And even though this serial killer is murdering people all over town, police officers and ambulances are mysteriously absent for most of the mayhem because almost all the imbecile characters in this movie usually don’t call 911. The nonsensical explanation in the movie is that the vigilante citizens think they can take Michael Myers on their own. Many of them think the Haddonfield police are incompetent. But that still doesn’t explain why the police aren’t showing up in force anyway.
And worst of all for a horror movie: There’s almost no suspense and nothing is truly terrifying. Gruesome? Yes. Scary? No. It’s very easy to predict who will die and who will survive in this movie. There’s also the predictable ending scene of someone who might or might not be dead. (It’s the most obvious way for a horror movie to set up a sequel.) The murders are done in such a monotonously routine way, it would be understandable for viewers to think that Michael Myers is sleepwalking. There is absolutely nothing creatively done in this movie when it comes to the plot, dialogue or action sequences.
“Halloween Kills” also squanders a compelling idea of reuniting many of the characters who survived the Michael Myers massacre that took place in the original 1978 “Halloween” movie. Several characters are introduced as having a meaningful connection to “Halloween” lore, but “Halloween Kills” won’t let viewers get to know these characters in a meaningful way. There are flashbacks in “Halloween Kills” that are ultimately a waste of time.
In one such flashback, which takes place in 1978 during Michael Myers’ first massacre in Haddonfield, viewers see a rookie cop in his 20s named Hawkins (played by Thomas Mann) and his older, more experienced partner Pete McCabe (played by Jim Cummings) on the scene. They are among the first cops to respond to this emergency. It’s enough to say that McCabe doesn’t make it out alive, but Hawkins does. In 2018, Hawkins (played by Will Patton) is still a Haddonfield cop, and he’s been wounded in this latest Michael Myers massacre.
Laurie is also wounded, because Michael stabbed her in the abdomen, as shown in 2018’s “Halloween.” She’s first seen in “Halloween Kills” bleeding profusely and in agony in the back of a truck with Karen and Allyson, as the truck speeds to the nearest hospital. It’s at this hospital that Laurie will stay for most of her screen time in “Halloween Kills.” She’s sidelined into being either being unconscious or, when she wakes up, being a cranky grandmother who thinks she knows best when it comes to who should go after Michael Myers.
And what a coincidence: A wounded Hawkins ends up being in the same hospital room as Laurie. There’s an almost laughable backstory put in “Halloween Kills” that Laurie and Hawkins had a flirtation with each other back in 1978. And so, in the midst of all the madness and mayhem with this latest Michael Myers killing spree, Laurie and Hawkins make goo-goo eyes at each other in their hospital beds, as they reminisce about their “could’ve been” near-miss romance. It’s an example of how off-the-rails this movie is in keeping Laurie mostly out of the action.
Besides Laurie and Hawkins, these are the other Haddonfield survivors from the original 1978 massacre who become targets of Michael Myers in the 2018 massacre:
Tommy Doyle (played by Anthony Michael Hall): In 1978, Laurie was babysitting Tommy and his sister on the Halloween night when Michael Myers went on his deadly rampage. Tommy’s sister became one of Michael Myers’ murder victims.
Lindsey Wallace (played by Kyle Richards): She was also a kid in 1978, and her babysitter was murdered by Michael Myers that night.
Marion Chambers (played by Nancy Stephens): She was the nurse of the late Dr. Loomis (played by Donald Pleasance), the psychiatrist who was treating Michael Myers when Michael escaped from the psychiatric institution on that fateful Halloween in 1978. (Stephens reprises her role that she had in 1978’s “Halloween” movie.)
Lonnie Elam (played by Robert Longstreet): When he was 9 or 10 years old, he had a near-miss encounter with Michael Myers on a sidewalk on Halloween night 1978. (Tristian Eggerling portrays Lonnie as a child in a flashback scene.)
“Halloween Kills” also has some other characters who encounter Michael Myers on Halloween night in 2018. Lonnie’s son Cameron Elam (played by Dylan Arnold) happens to be Allyson’s boyfriend. Cameron is also the person who finds a wounded Hawkins on the street. It’s one of the few times that someone in this movie has the common sense to call 911 for help. But that’s not what happens later in the movie when Lonnie, Cameron and Allyson foolishly decide to hunt down Michael Myers on their own.
Married couple Marcus (played by Michael Smallwood) and Vanessa (played by Carmela McNeal), who are dressed in Halloween costumes as a doctor and a nurse, meet Tommy at a local bar and quickly befriend him after he gets up on stage and talks about being a Michael Myers survivor. And there’s a gay couple named Big John (played by Scott MacArthur) and Little John (played by Michael McDonald), who work together in real estate. Big John and Little John happen to live in the house that Michael Myers used to live in before Michael was sent to a psychiatric institution in 1963 for killing his 17-year-old sister Judith when he was 6 years old. What are the odds that Michael will go back to his childhood home when Big John and Little John are there?
Michael Myers was supposed to be in his 20s in 1978, which means that he’s getting too old to have the type of superhuman strength that he has in these “Halloween” movies. He’s also been “killed” in several ways in various “Halloween” movies, but he still keeps coming back. All of that is explained in “Halloween Kills” when Laurie gives an absurdly bad monologue about how she’s come to the conclusion that Michael Myers is not human and he feeds off of people’s fear of him.
The “mob justice” aspect of “Halloween Kills” is idiotic and badly mishandled. Expect to see Tommy shout, “Evil dies tonight!” multiple times, as it becomes a rallying cry for the vigilante crowd. Just by coincidence, two psychiatric patients have escaped that night from a psychiatric institution that held Michael Myers. It’s a plot contrivance that’s set up for a silly “mistaken identity” subplot.
Even though the people of Haddonfield should know by now what Michael Myers’ height and general physical build should be (his body type hasn’t changed since 1978), the crazed vigilantes go after one of these escapees who’s considerably shorter and stockier than Michael Myers. Apparently, for this mob, any old psychiatric hospital escapee will do.
Karen is the only one with an iota of common sense to notice that this escapee doesn’t have Michael Myers’ physical characteristics. As the practical-minded Karen, Greer gives the best performance of this movie’s cast members. However, that’s not saying much because everyone’s acting in “Halloween Kills” is mediocre overall.
Oddly, there’s a lone elderly cop in uniform who gets swept up in the vigilante mob. His allegiances are never really clear. One minute, he seems to want to try to stop the mob madness. The next minute, he seems to be going along with the crowd. He doesn’t ask for backup from his fellow police officers. The only thing that’s clear is that he’s a terrible cop who should be fired and can kiss that pension goodbye.
There are many plot holes in “Halloween” that the filmmakers want to cover up with some cringeworthy dialogue and bloody action sequences. “Halloween Kills” has so much arguing and melodrama in a hospital, viewers will be wondering: “Is this a horror movie or a soap opera?” At one point, Laurie rips out her medical tubes and injects herself in the rear end with a painkiller. If you waited your whole life to see Laurie Strode give herself a butt injection, then “Halloween Kills” is the movie for you.
During one of her hospital rants, Laurie says to Karen about why Michael Myers is still on the loose and what Laurie wants to do about it: “The system failed … Let him come for me! Let him take my head as I take his! … You and Allyson shouldn’t have to keep running because of the darkness I created.”
But wait a minute, Laurie. “Halloween Kills” doesn’t want you to take all the credit for Michael Myers going on a rampage. Hawkins thinks Michael Myers is on this killing spree because of Hawkins. He makes a guilt-ridden confession that doesn’t make any sense at all for why Hawkins would be the reason for Michael Myers’ serial killings. There’s a badly written flashback scene involving a cover-up that wouldn’t be plausible in the real world because of autopsy reports and how bullet trajectories would be investigated.
It’s not as if viewers should expect a terrible horror movie like “Halloween Kills” to be realistic. But the movie just doesn’t offer a horrifying mystery, engaging new characters, or even twist-filled “hunt for the killer” chase scenes. It’s all so predictable, hollow and generic. “Halloween Kills” puts too much emphasis on a mindless and forgettable mob of people while sidelining Laurie Strode, the most memorable and iconic hero of the “Halloween” franchise. That’s the real injustice in “Halloween Kills.”
Universal Pictures released “Halloween Kills” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on October 15, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional U.S. city called Snow Hollow, the darkly comedic horror film “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A hot-headed police officer, who wants to be promoted to sheriff, has to contend with an angry ex-wife, a strained relationship with his teenage daughter and widespread speculation that a werewolf is committing a series of murders in his city.
Culture Audience: “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” will appeal to people who like horror films that have heavy doses of sarcasm, some slapstick humor and underlying social commentary.
Because so many horror films follow a certain formula by having extremely heroic protagonists and extremely evil villains, some filmmakers are starting to break out of that formula by having deeply flawed protagonists who aren’t concerned with being likable role models. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is one such film that mostly succeeds in breaking out of this formulaic horror mold, because the lead character/protagonist is a recovering alcoholic who relapses on the job and has a lot of unpleasant personality traits. Jim Cummings is the writer, director and star of “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” which skillfully mixes an old-school horror mystery with modern anti-hero sensibilities.
In “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” Cummings plays John Marshall, a fast-talking, irritable 39-year-old police officer who works in a fictional city called Snow Hollow, where the local economy is fueled by skiing and tourism. During a busy ski season, a string of murders happen that could ruin Snow Hollow’s safe reputation. Making things worse, witnesses have reported a werewolf-like figure near the scene of the murders, which only take place during nights with a full moon, so there are rampant rumors that a werewolf is on the loose.
John doesn’t believe in werewolves, so he’s determined to not only catch the apparent serial killer but also prove to everyone that a human has been committing the murders. John has ambitions to be promoted to sheriff, because the most recent person who had the position—Sheriff Dave Hadley (played by Robert Forster)—has retired. Dave also happens to be John’s father, although it’s not explained why they have different last names. It’s mentioned in the movie that John’s mother passed away years ago.
Even though Dave has officially retired, he still shows up for work and is in denial over some signs that he’s having health problems, such as a possible heart murmur. John urges Dave to get medical treatment, but Dave is too stubborn to listen. John has his own health problems too: He’s a recovering alcoholic. One of the movie’s first scenes is of John at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, where he confesses that he’s still angry at his ex-wife Brittany, who’s the mother of their 17-year-old daughter Jenna.
Out of respect for Dave, the police officers still act as if he’s the sheriff when he shows up for work. Unofficially, John takes charge of the murder investigation, which also includes Officer Julia Robson (played by Riki Lindhome), who is much more even-tempered and methodical than John. John’s way of working can best be described as “abrasive” and “impatient.” He often yells at witnesses, other police officers and anyone else he thinks is acting stupid. He also orders people involved in the investigation to do their work faster, even when they tell him that certain procedures can’t be rushed.
One of the people who clashes with John is the city coroner (played by Daniel Fenton Anderson), who insists that the medical findings show canine bites on the murder victims. In addition, large wolf footprints are found near the murder scenes. Every time John is faced with evidence that the murderer might not be human, he flies into a rage, because the murder victims’ bodies have injuries that could only be inflicted by someone who probably had a knife or some other cutting weapon.
For example, the first murder victim’s body was found with her vagina removed. (It’s not shown on screen, but the state of the victim’s body is described when police officers arrive at the crime scene.) All of the murders victims are female, and John doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.
The first murder victim is Brianne Paulson (played by Annie Hamilton), a tourist who was staying at a local private lodge with her boyfriend PJ Palfrey (played by Jimmy Tatro), who discovered her mutilated body outside of the lodge. The police question two local men who got into a small verbal altercation with PJ earlier that night in a restaurant where PJ and Brianne were dining. The men were being drunk and loud in the restaurant, and one of the men used a homophobic slur, which offended PJ, so he asked them to keep their noise level down.
The friend who was with the homophobic man quickly diffused the situation that could have turned into a brawl, and the two men left the restaurant without incident. The two men also said that they had alibis because they were bar hopping for the rest of the night and had the receipts to prove it. PJ is also questioned as a person of interest, and he maintains that he has nothing to do with the crime and didn’t see the murder happen. There’s no evidence that he committed the murder, so PJ is not arrested.
The next murder victim is ski instructor Hannah Marten (played by Hannah Elder), who was killed while PJ had already left the area. PJ is cleared as a possible suspect for Hannah’s murder, but he’s still on the police’s radar for Brianne’s murder, even though it’s looking more and more like the recent killings are being committed by the same murderer. The next victims are Liz Fairchild (played by Kelsey Edwards) and her baby daughter Miley (played Taigelee Wayne). The killing of a child brings even more urgency and pressure on the police to catch the murderer.
In addition to dealing with the stress of the investigation, John is having family problems. John and his daughter Jenna (played by Chloe East) have a rocky relationship because she’s angry about him being an inattentive parent. John’s ex-wife Brittany (played by Rachel Jane Day) also has a lot of bitterness and resentment toward John, and she sees herself to be Jenna’s primary parent. Considering that John is an alcoholic with a bad temper, it’s easy to see why they might be angry with him.
Over a tension-filled lunch at a local restaurant, John tells Brittany and Jenna that he has to work longer hours than usual because of the murder investigation. Jenna is about to enroll in a university in January on a ballet scholarship, and she was hoping that John would be there for her on the day that she moves to her dorm on campus. Brittany puts John on a guilt trip to make him feel like a bad parent, until John practically explodes in anger and promises that he will be there for Jenna on her moving day.
The pressure of the investigation and another tragic event eventually lead John to relapse back into his alcoholic ways. Who or what is the killer? And will the killer be caught? And will John redeem himself and get sober? Those questions are answered in the movie, which infuses the horrifying scares and mystery with some dark humor that is sometimes politically incorrect. The humor works because it’s actually what people might say if they feel comfortable enough to say it around certain people.
For example, there’s a scene where John and some of the other male police officers are discussing murder victim Brianne Paulson’s mutilated body that had her vagina removed by the murderer. Officer Chavez (played by Demetrius Daniels) comments, “My heart goes out to the boyfriend. It’s the ultimate ‘blue balls’ story.” In another scene, Dave gives a pep talk to his fellow officers and says, in reference to legislation requiring the separation of church and state: “I won’t ask you to pray with me because of the goddamn lawyers.”
Compared to other horror movies, “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” doesn’t get too gruesome with its violence. The visual effects are adequate, but the movie is more effective in its subtle and not-so-subtle commentaries on overzealous cops and how police could abuse their power during an investigation. Although the supporting actors are good (including the late Forster, in one of his last film roles), “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is really a showcase for Cummings and his talent as an actor, writer and director.
Cummings keeps a fairly brisk pace for the movie, which doesn’t let his John character completely off the hook for how he mistreats people. There are a few scenes where John gets some well-deserved payback from people who won’t put up with his nonsense. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is a mostly entertaining comedic horror movie, but it will also make people think about the types of cops who are corrupt and bad-tempered, compared to the criminals they are supposed to catch.
Orion Classics released “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on October 9, 2020.