Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: Exam (2010)

Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Starring: Adar Beck, Gemma Chan

"The test is simple in comparison, yet it will determine who leaves this room with a contract of employment, and who leaves with bus fair home."

Movies are a consumer’s commodity, with a lot of them being mass produced and tailored to fit the expectations of a group of people determined to be ‘the masses.’ That doesn’t mean they’re bad. I don’t want to come off as one of those pretentious snobs always looking down on whatever’s ‘mainstream’ as some kind of lower art form. There are plenty of mainstream films that are just as good as underground ones, but there’s also a certain joy in finding a film from a director I don’t know, with actors I’ve never heard of, and having it be completely awesome and blow me away. Hence…Exam.

This is just a treat. It’s a taut, mind-bending thriller set only in one room – you never see outside the small, dark room the 8 characters are placed in. The basic plot is that there are a group of people put in a room and asked to answer one question, or else they won't get the prestigious job they're applying for. Now, it's never stated what the job is, and only flashes are given of what's happening outside the room (some kind of futuristic society where a huge viral pandemic has happened). They’re given pieces of paper, but the papers are all blank. So what the heck is the question? That’s what they have to figure out.

The setting of Exam. A dark room where no-one enters and no-one leaves until the time is up...or unless they accidentally slip up.

The characters aren’t even given names. In a somewhat humorously racist twist, the black guy is called Black, the Arab guy Brown, and so on – they’re just called by nicknames regarding their physical attributes. These characters are constantly locked in a battle of wills. Like Cube and other similar films, you get the one guy that’s really standoffish who acts like a dick the entire time, and you get the level-headed characters who want to look at everything logically, and the one who is just plain odd and out of touch with reality. But where Exam succeeds is exactly how well it pulls off these clichés, as I found myself completely immersed in these characters.

Throughout the film you’re barely given any clues on what the hell is going on outside the room, what the job is or what the exam is actually about. It’s all left in the dark, and you are guessing most of the plot along with the characters. Little slivers of background information are expertly placed in between the tension, and they add a lot of flavor to the movie. The focus isn’t even really on any background information – just on the dramatic tension between the characters as they try to find out what exactly the answer to their puzzle is. They get more and more desperate over time and things really, really get out of hand.

The psychological tension continuously builds throughout the film.

And that’s why this is such a good movie. These characters really go nuts – I mean they really go at each other, and things get a lot more intense than I expected. I won’t spoil too much, as I really think everyone should go see this film for themselves, but the whole tension is captivating and the final twist is good. Exam succeeds with strong writing, a natural vigor and a staunch devotion to the thriller genre that is admirable from the point of such an underground picture. You don’t know any of the actors in this film, but if the world has any justice, you will see them, as well as the director and writer of this film, again soon.