Sunday, July 9, 2017

Beta (2017) Movie Review

Beta is the new micro-budget sci-fi film recently released to amazon prime. The sophomore directing effort of Layton Matthews (director of 2013's The Wanderers) follows Jake Plissken (Evan Gamble), a drug-addled So-Cal rockstar well on his way to being washed up. When Jake is confined to his home by a court order and an ankle monitor after some criminal mischief, his lawyer pulls favors with the Hilltech corporation to get him the chance to be a beta tester for their new fully immersive, virtual reality network H.A.V.E.N., which Jake accesses with the BCI (Brain Computer Interface.) Within the network, Jake is introduced to a host of other characters including Natalie (Cole Smith), a fellow tester that ultimately challenges Jake to rethink what it really means to be human. 
      The film makes use of classic sci-fi themes such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality and applies them in a unique way. Within sci-fi, most films coalesce with the genres of action or horror, while Beta opts to use it's scifi foundation to explore romance and humanity. Though i initially thought this genre mash-up to be strange, by the end of the film i was impressed with the competency in which it was executed. There were also plenty of technical aspects to keep me engaged throughout the runtime as well.
Jake logs into H.A.V.E.N. with the BCI
      The locations in the film are very limited but they're put to good use and livened up by some crafty camerawork. I noticed rack focuses, time lapses, first person POV shots, and one sequence that i suspect was done with the aid of a drone. The soundtrack is also a fundamental aspect in constructing the movie's character; the heavy bass and drum sound complimented with electronic melodies was perfectly suited for the high tech settings. Beta never takes itself too seriously to miss opportunities to take comedic jabs at the nature of A.I. or tech culture. There are also a few special effects scenes that, while looking cheesy, just add to the low-budget charm.
      Beta held my attention throughout, but it's most glaring problem is it's pacing. There are times when the movie begins to drag, especially during scenes with lengthy expository dialogue. The characters are well established by the end of the first act but by the end of the third act I didn't as if they were fully realized. Also, the ending wasn't as climactic as I'd have hoped and it left a few loose ends but overall, Beta was a solid watch for any sci-fi junkie that values high-concept themes and ideas over budget and visual effects.

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