Exam is a little known British psychological thriller written and directed by Stuart Hazeldine about eight candidates who undertake an unusual exam to qualify for a top secret job at a large pharmaceutical firm on the verge of producing a breakthrough drug that can heal any wound.
The story revolves around an 80 minute exam facilitated by a person who calls himself the Invigilator (Colin Salmon, Resident Evil) involving eight candidates who are only known throughout the film by their code names White (Luke Mably, The King and Me), Brown (Jimi Mistry), Blonde (Nathalie Cox), Deaf (John Lloyd Fillingham), Black (Chukwudi Iwuji), Brunette (Pollyana McIntosh), Dark (Adar Beck) and the unfortunate Chinese girl played by Gemma Chan. As the Invigilator gives them instructions, they realize that their tables contain only a blank sheet of paper with Candidate and their corresponding number marked on it. For the time they are given, they must figure out the question that they must answer or else be disqualified from the running.
I thought this film was brilliant. True, it did not have the razzle dazzle of other Sci Fi movies but what it lacked in flash, it made up for in intelligence. The film is all about connecting the dots and figuring out the clues. And as the characters back stories and motives are revealed, the closer they get to figuring out the one question that they must answer to secure the dream job. What starts out as a rather peaceful pledge to cooperate of course hits a turn when betrayals are revealed and in such a confined space with limited resources, engaging in treachery is not only challenging but rather creative.
I liked Luke Mably’s performance as the uber competitive White. He was a jerk through and through but one who is smart enough to be an asset to the team, and a bane to it as well. While Iwuji was given a major role as Black, I was mostly annoyed at him because his character seemed half baked. Jimi Mistry as Brown was cool and collected but showed a different facet to his character as the film progressed.
What’s great about these types of movies is that it involves the audience in the story. They try to figure out the question along with the candidates. And the theories are actually quite brilliant. As they try to deconstruct the instructions of the Invigilator, more and more clues are revealed until finally, the one deserving candidate figures the whole thing out (of course at the last minute). Movies like this tend to ask the audience what they would do if faced with similar situations/opportunities and in the end, everyone’s morality is called to task.
All in all, Hazeldine, along with his collaborators Gareth Urwin (producer) and Simon Garrety (screenwriter) made the right decision in not handing over the reins of this movie to a major studio. In so doing, they managed to produce something creative, simple, gripping and intelligent and overall a great movie that will have audiences alternating between biting their lips in thought or gripping the edge of their seats in suspense.