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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 06.08.10] United Kingdom movie review scifi horror thriller

Year: 2009
Directors: Stuart Hazeldine
Writers: Simon Garrity / Stuart Hazeldine
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 7.2 out of 10

[Editor's note: Thanks to IFC for this early look at Exam. Watch for it Stateside on July 23]

Nobody likes job interviews, but if you’re someone who particularly hates being put on the spot, or forced to answer ambiguous HR questions you’ll probably love Exam. Not because you’ll empathize with its characters mind you. You'll love the film because whatever your experience with the dreaded job interview has been up 'till now, these people get it way worse than you ever have. And, well, that's just fun to watch.

In Stuart Hazeldine’s gripping directorial debut, eight job candidates assemble in a cold, sterile room. They are given a desk, a chair, a pencil, a piece of paper and a set of seemingly simple instructions (which, of course, will NOT be repeated). All they have to do is answer one question and they could walk away with the job of their dreams. They have 80 minutes. But, when they turn their papers over they find they are empty.

Start the clock. Let the fun begin.

We've seen films like Exam before; films where a group of strangers are locked in close quarters and must work together to solve a communal crisis. Turn up the heat and queue rising tension and personality clashes. Saw, Cube, Fermat's Room and, more recently, The Killing Room are all good examples of films that use the formula to great effect, and the good news is you can add Exam to that list, because it keeps you guessing and even manages to offer something new.

Unlike the above-mentioned films, Hazeldine doesn't use the fear of death to motivate his characters. He uses something much more sinister. Fear of failure. Because, let's face it, in the corporate world there's no fate worse than coming in second. Cubical jockeys have committed suicide for less. Everyone in the room is a type-A personality and nobody wants to loose.

However, it's not long before they realize that to get closer to the prize they need to work together - and this is where the film gets interesting. One of the reasons I liked Cube so much is that team work and problem-solving is a huge portion of the plot. Characters guess and test and often fail, but each step opens new possibilities. It's like a metaphor for the creative process. Instead of blood and guts, Exam follows this path becoming more of a classy thriller than a disposable Saw rip-off.

It's a well known fact that Hazeldine's a scifi nut (he's writing Tripods for heaven's sake!) and so by the mid-point you'll start to notice Exam taking a turn into this realm. At times, talk of pandemic virus', miracle cures, all- powerful corporations a la Tyrell Corp start to slow the pace, but Hazeldine knows what he's doing. It's not just for show. He uses these devices to propel character decisions and set up a great ending so stick with it and enjoy the ride.

One complaint: Why must all one-room thrillers have an idiot savant? Seriously?

Bottom line: Exam is a classy thriller, expertly plotted and mischievous in its design. It'll keep you guessing like a great Hitchcock film, but feels modern like a great indie. So take the test. It's worth it.

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projectcyclops (12 years ago) Reply

Thanks for the review, this just arrived here so I'll have to check it out.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

i recommend the spanish original.


the spanish film was much more serious and didnt feature such a bs ending that solely relies on a gimmicky plot device to explain the characters actions.


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

I'm assuming you're refering to the Spanish film "The Method." You're right, it's a great film and similar to Exam, but I wouldn't call it an "original" or Exam a "remake." At least they are not meant to be.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

yea. the set up is pretty similar though. id say hazeldine was at least VERY inspired by it.....


so do u agree about the ending? i didnt like the thing about the mysterious infection and how the cure to mortality suddenly healed the guy who was shot ultra fast in the end...
it kind of ruined the whole visceral beginning which was a much more insightful study of the human psyche.


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply


Yes, I would agree with you that some of the scifi aspects feel forced because they sort of come out of nowhere. The bullet thing you mentioned definitely feels like a cop-out too because you can see through it. Hazeldine needs it to be that way so we buy the benevolence of the CEO at the end.

It might have been better if scifi ideas were laced throughout the film, BUT too many out-there notions would have changed the rules of the movie's universe too much.

While I agree with you that the film works best as a study of human behaviour, I'd say these above issues are minor and didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film.

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