It’s been two weeks since I last posted here on Escape The Real World. I’m struggling to get my mind around that. Where did those two weeks go? I think I’m still trying to adjust to being back in college and all the lectures and assignments that come with that, while juggling a part-time job and the need to sleep, so trying to find the time to blog has been somewhat of a challenge.
In between all that though, I stumbled across a movie called Exam, which was one of those quirky, “mind-fuck” movies that sometimes fly under the radar. I’m genuinely surprised that Exam isn’t more well-known as it has such a simple premise that is executed perfectly. So I thought it would be a good movie to share with you guys, especially those of you who love a good psychological thriller.
Exam, released in 2009, was written, directed, produced and financed by British writer/director Stuart Hazeldine, who decided to forgo studio backing in favour of having complete control of his project. The film went on to be nominated for Best UK Feature at the Raindance Festival, as well as gaining a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut. The story revolves around eight candidates who are selected to compete for a job with a prestigious company. The group consists of four men and four women, who all represent different factions of society in terms of gender, race, culture, education and worldview.
The candidates are led into a small, enclosed room, where each of the desks has a piece of paper with the word ‘candidate’ and a number between 1 and 8 written on it. A man known as the Invigilator enters and informs the candidates that the exam will last 80 minutes, and there are only three rules that must be adhered to: They must not communicate with the Invigilator or the guard stationed at the door, they must not leave the room, and finally they must not spoil the paper in front of them in any way. With that, the Invigilator leaves, and the exam timer begins to tick down from 80 minutes.
Perplexed as to what to do next, the candidates eye each other suspiciously. Then one of them panics and begins to write on their paper explaining why they should be chosen, and is promptly disqualified and removed from the room. Concluding that this is no ordinary exam, the other candidates realise that they will initially have to work as a team and use the room around them if they are to figure out what is asked of them. But it’s not long before personal ambitions and distrust creep into play, and the candidates find they must outsmart the others as well as figure out the answer if they are to win the coveted job.
Exam certainly has a unique premise, and it perfectly captures the anxiety and cold sweats that many of us experience when faced with exams or job interviews. The first few minutes where the candidates sit in the room waiting for the exam to start is completely relatable. There is tension, no one is speaking, all concentrating on the task in front of them. Who hasn’t had to experience something like this at some point in their professional life? What I found interesting about the movie, is the way in which the viewer almost becomes the ninth candidate; the answer is not immediately obvious so we to have to think of various ways to solve the riddle along with the candidate. This is helped by the fact that apart from the opening ten minutes, in which we see snapshots of the candidates preparing themselves for what comes next, the length of the exam takes place inside the small, cramped room.
I was also struck by the feel of the movie. It didn’t have the feel of something that was cut together in an editing room. It felt as if I was watching this story unfold live. Doing some research on the film, I found out that a stage show ran at the Three Minute Theatre in Manchester, in 2012. I can see why – it would make a tense, exciting watch on stage.
The cast is made up of relative unknowns, but each gives a compelling performance in their respective roles. It’s agreed that no names will be shared amongst the group, so each is assigned a nickname based off their physical traits. Amongst others, there is the smart, mysterious Dark, the cocky, wise cracking White, the stoic Brown and the sultry Blonde. The actors bounce off each other well and bolster the story in turn.
The whispers of a pandemic that has struck the earth add an interesting dynamic to the story, while not derailing what is happening in the room. The only issue I would have with the film is the ending. While the final twist is brilliant, and so simple you’ll be amazed you didn’t spot the answer quicker, the ending feels rushed and a little disjointed in comparison to all that happened up to that point.
All in all though, Exam presents a different take on the psychological thriller, and was a really great find.
Written/Directed/Produced by: Stuart Hazeldine
Starring: Adar Beck, Chris Carey, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Gillingham, Chuk Iwuji, Luke Mably, Pollyanna Macintosh, Jimi Mistry, Colin Salmon.
Runtime: 100 minutes
Have you seen Exam? What were your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.
For now I’m off to get an early night. Time to start managing this time better.