Indie Film Review “Beta”



First, the Recap:

Man vs. machine. The material age vs. the digital age. The old vs. the advanced. As we watch society continue to rely more and more heavily on the admittedly amazing new facets of our existence that computers can bring, is there still not a moments hesitation that at one point, it truly will become a world of fantasy instead of reality?  And when that time comes, will be at all ready to accept the price? Rock star Jake Plissken (Evan Gamble) had it all until a drug-fueled bender put him out of the spotlight, at least in any good way, and under house arrest. Unsure of how exactly he will watch as everything he’d gained is slipping away, an unexpected twist occurs.

Visited by a man named Wade (Layton Matthews), an A.I. programmer with a company known as Hill-Tec, Jake is introduced to a state-of-the-art Virtual Reality system called H.A.V.E.N..  Chosen to be a tester, Jake immediately becomes deeply immersed in his newfound fantastical realm where he meets an A.I. girl/programmer named Natalie (Cole Smith). However, even as he learns more and more about the virtual arena while also falling for Natalie, it becomes apparent Hill-Tec has had other, more devious plans for H.A.V.E.N.’s release, which Natalie represents a threat to with some revelatory knowledge. Soon, Jake and Wade are encompassed in a battle to save Natalie, even as Jake truly learns what it actually means to be human.

Next, my Mind:

Madonna sang about living in a material world while Imagine Dragons crooned about being welcomed to a new age, and the dichotomy of ideologies these sentiments represent is certainly addressed with sci-fi infused conviction in this 84-minute indie film effort from writer/director/co-producer/editor/actor Matthews. With a highly relevant primary theme that addresses the ever-present push towards virtual reality in our contemporary lifestyle, much less those who would use it for good vs. corporate execs who wish to exploit it, the narrative also explores the very nature of being human through the eyes of one who’s never realized he’d lost sight of it until being confronted with a totally unique perspective while in the VR universe. It’s an eye-opening lesson in acceptance, being transparent, and learning to adapt instead of remaining stagnant or unwilling to embrace a new point of view. Again, it’s a mirror to our current state of affairs, and hence needed when we do actually witness the results of our own lack of imagination or unbending ways that often cause more trouble than progress. As hinted above, wrap this all in a science-fiction shell so it’s both entertaining and pertinent, a great combo.

Gamble does a solid job here as Jake, a totally off-the-deep-end rock icon whose wake-up call becomes much more than just an ankle bracelet or being confined to quarters. What begins as a playful bit of necessary escape from his incarceration turns into an honestly life-changing adventure, making Jake realize the new importance of what’s right and wrong, but in the context of the physical vs. technological world and those who would maintain its “innocence” vs. those who desire to corrupt or hijack it for their own purposes. The awakening Jake experiences is sincere and real enough, played with enthusiasm by Gamble. Cole executes the role of Natalie with the same level of fervor, presenting the soul of a young woman actually paying the initial price for her involvement to try and keep Hill-Tec’s more nefarious elements at bay, but has since been able to utilize her skills to continue her presence in this new form in order to keep the fight going. Cole embodies Natalie well, and the character’s involvement with Jake develops charmingly and with heart at its core.

Matthews plays Wade, a Hill-Tec programmer who gets in over his head once he learns what Jake and Natalie are up to, putting himself in the crosshairs of Hill-Tec’s higher ups and their agendas. A plethora of supporting roles are found in addition, including Jesse C. Boyd as the diabolically ambitious William Sturgess, Dylan Ramsey as his co-worker Randall Ankrom, Viola Sator as a Hill-Tec top exec not to be trifled with, Tiffany Connor as FBI Cybercrime investigator Diane Pierce who only wants to get to the bottom of Jake’s story, dubious of its truth, as well as Adam Fleck, Harrison Held, Christina Cha, Curt Clendenin, Fiona Domenica, and Christine Rapsys among others. In total, with its straightforward, simple visual presentation, almost in 80’s throwback style, “Beta” stands as a sturdy little piece of indie film entertainment that also holds an applicable story which fits perfectly into our modern times.  Because let’s face it, how far away are we from exactly what is shown, and will we be able to keep our sights on reality or lose to what isn’t really there? Or is it?

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

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