5 out of 10

Released: 10 January 2010

Director: Stuart Hazeldine (The Shack)

Cast: Jimi Mistry, Luke Mably, Nathalie Cox, Chuk Iwuji, Pollyanna McIntosh, Adar Beck, John Lloyd Fillingham, Gemma Chan and Colin Salmon

Writer: Stuart Hazeldine & Simon Garrity

Trailer: EXAM 

Here’s a high-concept Brit-Pic with a low budget but enough ideas to fill ten big budget movies. This is for film fans who enjoy a brain teaser. Fans of Glengarry Glen Ross, Saw or Fermat’s Room will be along for the ride and unless you unravel puzzles like this for a living this one may tie you in knots.

The set up is simple, eight candidates for a job in the world’s leading medical corporation have to sit one final exam after having made it through a very tough process.  Four women,  four men, one answer, no question.  The page is blank and there is an armed man at the door. There is a clock counting down to zero.  What will happen? Destruction? Nothing? We’re pretty much along for the ride in this nifty little film.

Good performances from a largely unknown cast help ramp up the claustrophobia and the panic, stripping the candidates down to types very quickly.  Set in a single room in real time, this could send some audience members running for the hills.  But the twists and turns will keep your average viewer happy.  It’s not a horror film but it does come close to bone once or twice, but saying that, it’s no Saw.  It’s good to see Jimi Mistry (2012) in a strong leading role as he rarely gets cast in anything to build on his next best thing status promised in the late 90s.  Colin  Salmon (RESIDENT EVIL)  is also in the room briefly fulfilling the Alec Baldwin role in Glegarry Glen Ross.  He sets chills as the unreadable invigilator.

Its worth seeking out if you enjoy a puzzle. but like all mysteries, its not only about the journey, its about the reveal.  Whether you think the outcome is worth the bother is very much down to you.  I’d say it will need a second watch just to spot the obviously clues that many may have missed.

For once an experiment that works. Set bound – yes. a head-scratch – yes, enjoyable – yes. Crucial viewing?  Well it crept onto a handful of cinemas in back in early 2010 and made no money. So despite having good coverage in film magazines it passed everyone by.  Seems people chose the January blockbuster over the more quizzical.  So I’d recommend it for those that look beyond the blockbuster for something a little uneasy, a little bit difficult but not alienating.

A good genre flick, but that ending? Was it worth it?

5 out of 10... An exciting Sunday crossword for fans of Saw and Glengarry Glen Ross

See Joe Pesci II’s review below…



4 thoughts on “EXAM

  1. Looks good -and I’ve never even heard of it before!. Thanks for this review site, Ed. Have you seen Late Night Shopping? Brit film from ten or so years ago. Absolutely brilliant!

    • Late Night Shopping was great. Yes I had it on video. Can’t quite remember if I saw this at the pictures or not… It had KATE ASHFIELD from Shaun OF The Dead in it… Thanks for your comments>!>

  2. EXAM – review by Joe Pesci II aka Matt Usher of Hairy Dungeon Movies fame

    Would you kill for a job?

    Eight candidates. One job. One exam. Eighty minutes. One question. But the question is: what is the question? Some fool forgot to write it on the exam paper and Colin Salmon is far too stern and scary an invigilator to ask. So our four men and four women set about trying to work out what the question is. But one’s a nervous wreck, and one’s really annoying, and they keep getting thrown out for seemingly minor infringements. It’s a tough task, an intriguing set-up, and ultimately the pay-off isn’t worth it.

    I am glad I watched the film though, purely from a personal perspective. As I shall soon be undergoing interviews and exams it is reassuring to note that what happens in this film is clearly still in the realms of fantasy and I won’t actually find myself, for example, being tortured by another applicant, or shot, or find myself smashing lights and starting fires. This is the near future you see, and they do things differently there. We know this because right at the start we get the word ‘SOON’ in big red letters on a black background. A pandemic virus has ripped across the planet causing devastation. Only one company has the cure. And it is that company which is hiring today.

    The science fiction element is the least successful part of the film: it also renders the ending almost meaningless which is a shame. The acting is the strongest element. Jimi Mistry (last seen disgracing himself in the gloriously abysmal BASEMENT) redeems himself, and it is good to see Chuk Iwuji on film (as opposed to clambering over my head once when he was in a play). Poor old Gemma Chan gets next to nothing to do as usual, while Luke Mably is the annoying twerp who you have to have in these claustrophobic films (see Michael Jibson in PANIC BUTTON and Jimi Mistry in the already mentioned and dreadfully dire BASEMENT for comparison). Just as you have to have an annoying twerp, you also have to have an annoying psychologist, played by Adar Beck, who is the weakest link here. Meanwhile, we find John Lloyd Fillingham as the nervous wreck, Nathalie Cox as the boring one and Pollyanna McIntosh as the one who would have got the job if this was a normal interview.

    EXAM has a lot going for it, but there’s also a lot going against it as well. The film is told in real-time, but the countdown aspect doesn’t do much to generate tension, and what with the stakes being so low (it’s just a job!) (and no-one knows what the job is!), you wish that it would just speed up a bit. When I later learned that it had been speeded up a bit, my heart sank a little. As our characters become more frantic and start doing VERY STUPID THINGS I was shouting ‘it’s only a job!’ at the screen. Come on, if you were in an EXAM and someone drew a gun on you, what would you do? (Bear in mind that using a gun has not been forbidden by the rules, and that Colin Salmon has said something along the lines of ‘what happens in the room stays in the room’? Bear in mind also that you don’t know what the job is, and bear in mind also that you haven’t trained as a spy or soldier or anything like that.) I’d just say ‘I don’t want the job thank you very much’ and leave. Maybe that’s just me. But I am forgetting that all this happens ‘SOON’ (in big red letters) and who knows how vicious the job market may one day become? Perhaps Lord Sugar’s apprentices will soon be decided through trial by combat? Maybe EXAM is actually a satire? I wish it was; it just feels very earnest, but without any Kafkaesque absurdity. It seems to believe in itself too much. If this is a vision of the future it is a very prosaic and glum future. It’s also something of a shaggy dog tale. Added to this, it becomes obvious fairly early on who is going to be the winner. I happily admit that I didn’t guess the question (though, and I’ve only just realised this, the question is similar to a test in a Doctor Who annual c.1978, which I got right when I was about eight). But the winner gets the answer wrong! The answer should be ‘Yes. Lots.’

    To be fair, it is well written, well acted, and well shot. But IT’S ONLY A JOB! So the torture and shooting and tying up seem just a tad excessive. The paranoia and tension simply haven’t mounted up to the degree that would make those things likely. The secrets, as they tumble out, are not sufficiently inciendiary. So one of the candidates already works for the company? So what? And surely there have to be easier ways to work out which candidates are greedy bloodsuckers willing to do anything to get ahead than to put them in a position where they’re likely to kill their rivals? (You know, rivals who are actually the candidates you might want to employ if they hadn’t been killed by a lesser candidate.)

    EXAM is thought-provoking and has lots of interesting ideas, but the story falls apart constantly. The characters are well-drawn, and it’s a good film to have an argument with. But in the end, it is a huge amount of flummery to get through for very little reward. Particularly when you find out what the job is. If you think ‘here’s a high-powered hugely responsible job with the potential to do a great deal of good in the world’ then it’s a good job. If you think ‘people have been willing to kill and die for this opportunity, blood has been spilt, and electrocution and poisoning risked’ then you’d probably turn it down. Now that would have been a good ending.

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