Simon Garrity, Stuart Hazeldine
Adar Beck, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Chukwudi Iwuji, Luke Mably, Polyanna MacIntosh, Jimi Mistry, Colin Salmon, Chris Carey
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Sometimes, you discover a film that most of your friends and peers haven’t. When it’s as stylish and thoughtful as Exam, it’s an amazing feeling.
Exam stars 12 relative unknowns in the roles of candidates for a prestige position at a major corporation. The time is an unspecified future where a mysterious disease plagues the populace leaving those infected with either a lifelong prescription to a powerful adrenaline-like drug or face unconsciousness, convulsions, coma and eventually death. The opening scene introduces the ten candidates by small details shot in extreme close-up after which we are introduced to them in full as they walk into a stark, elongated room with ten small tables with chairs, an administrator (here called the Invigilator) (Colin Salmon) and a guard (Chris Carey). The rules are simple. There is one question and one answer. They may not communicate with the invigilator or the guard, may not spoil their papers either purposely or accidentally and may not leave the room.
After the invigilator leaves, the ten candidates each begin to unravel the mystery that has brought them to this rather extreme and unorthodox job interview. The first order of business is to establish names for each, giving aliases instead of actual names. The most vocal candidate, and the one who assigns each their nicknames, names himself White (Luke Mably) after naming two of the other men in the room similarly based on their skin colors: Black (Chukwudi Iwuji) and Brown (Jimi Mistry). We learn very little about who or what Black had been, though chemist seems like an apt description, but Brown is a prominent gambler. The others are named based on their ethnicity, Chinese (Gemma Chan), or their hair color, Blonde (Nathalie Cox), Brunette (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Dark (Adar Beck). The final candidate, a quiet, unassuming man who speaks only French is the bespectacled man White names Deaf (John Lloyd Fillingham) because he seems to ignore them. With names out of the way, the fun begins where each of them try various techniques to coax the question out of the seemingly blank page set before them.
One by one, each candidate is eliminated through various methods, though the discovery of these events is entirely part of the fun. Built a bit like one of the Saw films, all that is revealed is done slowly across the film’s nearly two hour running time. And despite that length, the film never lets the tension wane for long. It’s hard not to be impressed or to enjoy yourself while the movie’s running. Each actor delivers a capable performance, playing best off of one another than when delivering soliloquy. There are times when you wonder if you’re watching a film that was spliced together in the editing room or something that unfolded live. I could easily see a film like this being transferred to the stage quite easily.
The movie does quite a bit of moralizing and although much of it is information we’ve heard espoused in various media throughout history, it doesn’t feel as trite as I had expected. When sitting down to this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had first thought it might be some cheesy direct-to-video thriller with no redeeming merit, but as the film played out, I became more fascinated with its pseudo-futuristic setting, the inventiveness of the situations created and the ultimate twist that makes perfect sense when you get there, even if you weren’t following that train of thought yourself. Director Stuart Hazeldine marks his big screen debut with an impressive and involving thriller.
The story, which he co-wrote, directed and produced have afforded Hazeldine with that rare vehicle that will boost him into better film projects in the future. Already on his schedule is a writing credit of Alex Proyas’ filming of John Milton’s classic epic poem Paradise Lost. And much of his work seems geared towards writing and not directing, but I suppose it’s only time before he finds himself something to field himself. The film plays like something a younger Proyas would have directed. The film feels like it falls naturally into place without much coaxing. While there are some minor frustrations, namely near the end of the film, they are relatively minor and shouldn’t detract much from your overall enjoyment.
There isn’t a lot of gore in Exam, though there is a bit of violence. It’s a tight, psychological thriller that exposes the depth of human cruelty when the rules of the game are wide open. It’s how we react to the most depraved and dangerous situation that defines who we are and, in the end, it’s those virtuous souls that are justly rewarded, not those who manipulate, cajole and threaten to get to that point. And while life sadly does not reflect this maxim, this film embodies such a concept quite admirably.
May 8, 2011