Monday, September 16, 2013

Exam (2009)

Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Notable Cast: Luke Mably, Jimi Mistry, Pollyanna McIntosh, Chukwudi Iwuji, Nathalie Cox, Adar Beck, John Lloyd Fillingham, Gemma Chan, Colin Salmon

Going into “Exam,” I knew very little about the film. I had seen a trailer previously, thought it looked intriguing for a concept, but sort of forgot about the film until recently when I discovered it was available on Netflix Streaming. Just the cover art, with its blacks and reds and stark contrasts, perked my curiosity once again and there I was heading down impulse-watch-lane. Luckily, “Exam” fully lives up to its high concept and comes off as a smart and truly unique thriller. While its one setting and often-subtle use of clues might find some viewers yawning with anticipation, “Exam” had me by the edge of my seat the entire time.

In a realm of endless by-the-numbers thrillers, “Exam” is most certainly a breath of fresh air. While many thrillers tend to focus on ‘who’ for their mystery (Who killed? Who is the betrayer? Who is the mastermind?), “Exam” takes an intriguing high end concept for its mystery. Eight strangers competing for a high end position in a very powerful company are left in a bare room with a blank sheet of paper and told there is only one question and one answer. So “Exam” quickly throws our diverse characters, who are cleverly introduced with small traits of how they prepared themselves for this final exam, into the mystery of ‘what is the question.’ Yet the film does something remarkable with this idea. In true Agatha Christie form, which is reaffirmed with a reference to “Ten Little Indians,” the ‘what’ that is so important to these characters leaves the audience digging into the more important question of ‘why’ is the corporation taking such measures. It’s a brilliant move that makes every clue of dialogue or plot progression as our characters make choices all the more relevant.

The room where it all goes down.
“Exam” truly is a thoughtful concept, but perhaps even better then its brisk script and clever idea is the strong execution from there. Writer/director/editor Hazeldine throws his heart and soul into the execution of this film and it pays off. The casting is brilliant, held down with some impressive performances from all involved, and the strong visual direction makes a rather bland room seem infinite and claustrophobic whenever he needs it whether it’s the tension of their first steps to solving the question or the heightened paranoia that occurs in the finale act. As I mentioned, the film is driven by very subtle clues so even the brief clips of flashbacks are a welcome addition to the journey that the viewer is asked to follow.

Paranoia runs thick in genre films.
While “Exam” was a ballsy film that took a lot of chances with its subtle script work and ‘less is more’ character work, but it pays off in massive dividends even throwing in a bit of a ‘science fiction’ streak of background story that had me hooked. While “Exam” is not a film for everyone, it comes very highly recommended here for its strong direction, brilliant acting, and high-grade concept. An underground gem worth finding and purchasing.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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