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Like Saw for corporate go-getters, in EXAM eight young people vying for a sought-after job are locked together in a room and given one hour to finish their exam. But the exam is a blank piece of paper and the eight candidates soon realize their only competition isn t a q& a but each other. Hot rising talent Stuart Hazeldine is Hollywood s in-demand rewrite artist for top sci-fi and thriller fare and now he s established himself as a behind the camera threat with this brilliant genre spin highlighted by actor Luke (28 Days Later) Mably s swaggeringly solipsistic bad-boy charisma as the job applicant most likely to succeed by stabbing you in the back. Like Saw for smarties or the B-movie gem Cube, EXAM is one test you can look forward to bring your number 2 pencil and hope you don t get cut.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Exam" was written, produced, and directed by Stuart Hazeldine who is known for some sci-fi film writing and not much else. I had low expectations going in on this one and was VERY pleasantly surprised. Hazeldine in this closed room scenario managed to pull out the tension that "Devil" failed to achieve earlier this year in an elevator.
The premise is that eight candidates are vying for a very prestigious job with a company. They are shown into a room with eight desks, each of which has a white slip of paper with "Candidate" and a number after it. A proctor of the "exam" informs them that there is one question before them and one answer and lays out ground rules of not attempting to speak to the proctor or the guard in the room and that if any of them "spoils" their paper, they are disqualified and escorted out.
What follows is an exercise in logic and group dynamics as each of them attempts to pull information out of the others without giving much in return. A sassy bad boy-type man who makes waves played by Luke Mably dubs himself the nickname "White" and then hands out nicknames to the others based on their race or hair color to make things simpler. While they try to work together to at least find the question, it soon becomes every man or woman for themselves.
I found this film suspenseful and intriguing with very well developed characters, dialogue, and strategy. The entire film takes place in one room that they manage to use in interesting ways once the characters in the room attempt to change the space to induce results. It flows VERY well and I was so worried that the ending would drop the ball but, NO SPOILERS, I was very pleased with the way it wrapped up and thankful that the job ended up being something very worthwhile when it was finally revealed. NOT a horror movie though its poster makes it look like one. It is a suspense mystery movie. HIGHLY recommended, CHECK IT OUT!
"Exam" ratchets up the stakes by setting the film in the near future where a pandemic is ripping through the world's populace. Winning the job is a chance at survival itself as one of the company perks is a treatment protocol--a health insurance package of undeniable importance. But to gain life, is it worth trading your humanity? That's the conundrum each of the interviewees must face. From various backgrounds, these applicants form a good cross section of society and this microcosm starts to unravel almost immediately. Each is given a blank sheet of paper and asked to answer one question--but the question is never defined. After they initially work together, they start to become more and more frantic and more and more ruthless at eliminating the competition. There will be only one victor.
The story is taut and tidy. The screenplay is clever without being overly precious. And the cast is game. Ranging from cool bravado to outright hysteria, each actor brings a unique characteristic to their role. I will single out Luke Mably for special mention. In other films, he has sometimes come across as rather placid and nondescript. Here he is absolutely captivating with an intensity that burns up the screen and propels the movie forward. His unhinged performance lends an "anything can happen" feel to the film that is really effective. "Exam" is a thinking person's thriller for people who appreciate the tension that can be generated by dialogue and human interaction. The concept brings out both the best and worst of those involved and that is where the drama lay. "Exam" is a psychological treat that actually has a decent emotional payoff--I was very pleasantly surprised! KGHarris, 10/10.
Their task? Answer one question correctly, written on a piece of paper, that will lead to them getting hired by the richest company in the world for a job that will almost certainly lead to fortune and prestige. The only problem? All their papers are blank. To tell any more would be to spoil the plot of one of the most original, ingenious, and tightest independent thrillers I've seen in a good long while, and I CERTAINLY wouldn't want to do that.
EXAM shows the dark side of human nature. It shows the parts we would rather cover up. It takes 8, on the surface decent, humans, and turns them into animals - cheating, manipulating, scheming, and fighting. Like 12 Angry Men if the 12 men were from all over the globe, all brilliant, all desperate, and all willing to kill for a perfect job, Exam uses it's one-location setting to terrible effect, leading to a surprisingly insightful and detailed glance at human nature, knowledge, and the nature of questions.
The acting fits the film perfectly. Director Stuart Hazeldine's international cast brings a wide variety of talents; the acting cannot be faulted, and standout performances come from White, Brown, Deaf, and Colin Salmon's Invigilator. The cinematography and camerawork too, is excellent; cold, slick, and quite often beautiful, it fits the story near-flawlessly. Extra points for a quiet, mood-building score.
Yes, there may be plotholes, but this original screenplay and plot is one of the most original, thought-provoking, and smart I have ever seen. Kudos to the cast and crew for a slick, intense, riveting, and endlessly convoluted psychological thrill ride. This movie is not for everyone, however. It contains little action, and casual viewers may find the film confusing. But if you like psychological thrillers that rely on mind games instead of explosions, independent films, and puzzles, Exam is definitely a must-watch. 4.5 points out of 5 (see what I did there?).
After a series of mysterious evaluations and exercises, there are eight applicants left in the running for a vague but prestigious corporate position. A few of the applicants don't even know the identity of the corporation. They are placed in a room with eight desks, eight chairs, eight pencils, and eight copies of a paper examination. They are told that they have 80 minutes to complete the exam, and that at the end of the 80 minutes, there will be one candidate selected. While in the room, "The only law is our law...," states the moderator. "If you try to communicate with myself or the guard... If you spoil your paper intentionally or accidentally... if you choose to leave this room for any reason you will be disqualified."
The timer is started, the moderator leaves, and the candidates turn over their exam to begin the test.
But the exams are all blank. Seventy-nine minutes to go until someone is selected. Where are the questions? The movie proceeds with these remaining minutes in real time, culminating in a dramatic, frightening conclusion.
For the viewer, you can't help but try to predict where things are going. The room is stark, and there is an open drain in the middle of the floor. A mute, armed guard stands by the door, ready to escort the candidates that "...try to communicate with myself or the guard... or spoil your paper intentionally or accidentally..." out of the room.
"The only law is our law..." How far will these candidates go?
The suspense builds gradually, as you learn more about each candidate and the clock ticks down to zero.
There seems to be a sudden swell in the number of locked-room mystery/thrillers coming out recently, and while they (like any other fad subgenre) range from the sublime to the ridiculous, I have to admit I've been quite fond of most of them, and Exam, the first directorial effort from writer Stuart Hazeldine (Riverworld), is no exception. I guess this shouldn't surprise me, considering it was BAFTA-nominated for Outstanding Debut (losing to Duncan Jones and Moon). Not sure what I was expecting, but Exam exceeded it nicely.
We begin with eight people getting ready. After a few moments of montage, they descend on a room (presumably underground, though we do not know for certain) where each is seated at a desk. They are addressed by a man who calls himself The Invigilator (Colin Salmon, a staple in late-nineties Bond flicks). The Invigilator lays down the ground rules for the test, sets a clock for eighty minutes, and then leaves them alone with a silent guard (stuntman Chris Carey, who also had a small role in 1408). The eight of them soon realize that this is no normal exam; their papers are all blank, save "Candidate 1", "Candidate 2", etc. One of them starts acting as a de facto leader once he realizes that the rules don't include not talking to one another, and disdaining the use of names, he christens them all (save one who has already been disqualified); thus we only know the main characters by one of their defining traits. We have White (28 Days Later's Luke Mably), who's doing the leading, along with Black (Proof's Chukwudi Iwuji), Brown (2012's Jimi Mistry), and Chinese (model Gemma Chan in her first feature), then he moves on to Blonde (Clash of the Titans' Nathalie Cox), Brunette (Land of the Lost's Pollyanna MacIntosh), and Dark (Adar Beck, recently of The Debt). The last of the bunch he christens Deaf (Coronation Street's John Lloyd Fillingham), presumably because he's the only person in the room who seems to be capable of ignoring White. As the time runs down and the remaining candidates get more desperate, we start to see beyond the interview-like facade each had presented in the beginning.
You've got a debut director working with, in general, a stable of unknown actors in a low-budget film. You can guess where that's going, but this is one of those happy cases in which you couldn't be more wrong. Exam is a tense, well-written thriller that deserves far more attention than it's gotten; aside from one quick festival release, it went straight to video-on-demand in America. I recommend you demand it sometime in the near future, 'cause this is a good one. *** ½