We’ve seen it before… Oh my have we seen it before. A group of disparate people stuck in a singular location with no real way out of this location and subjected to some kind of psychological or physical distress with the ultimate goal to be the last one standing. It seems to be if you are a filmmaker and you don’t have a whole bunch of money to work with, this scenario here is a simple enough one to pull off and get a movie made which is possibly why we’ve seen so many movies centered around this particular scenario. This leads us to freshman director Stuart Hazeldine’s film ‘Exam’ which, as it turns out, happens to be better, significantly so, than a lot of those ‘locked in a room’ movies that this site is littered with.
Our film starts out with observing eight people, people who seemed seriously stressed out, rising in the morning preparing to go to a job interview. It appears to us at this particular point and time in what I’m assuming is the UK that jobs are mighty scarce and these eight individuals have had to endure all kinds of stressful tasks to make it to this point. They enter a room with eight desks, a sheet of paper and a pencil on these eight desks, and an armed guard guarding the exit. Our applicants take their respective seats and are soon joined by some cat calling himself The Invigilator (Colin Salmon), which is a real word as it turns out, who gives our team some rather explicit instructions on what is expected of them if they hope to land this plum gig. It’s not a lot of instructions but they are pretty clear and concise.
We are only going to concern ourselves with seven of these candidates since one of them will be shown the door all to quickly. But the primary candidate in all of this would be the man who will call himself ‘White’ (Luke Mably) because this young man is the catalyst in this room. White will assign all of the applicants names based on some politically incorrect feature such as the Black guy being called Black (Chukwudi Iwuji) or the woman with the blonde hair being called Blonde (Nathalie Cox) or initially referring to the Indian gentleman as Gandhi before opting just to call him Brown (Jimi Mistry).
Our team has 80 minutes to answer the question. The problem is that they have no idea what this question is since it isn’t written on this blank piece of paper. Each of our applicants seem to have some specific talents such the character called Dark (Adar Beck) possessing psychological skills, Black’s scientific acumen or Brown’s penchant for gambling. They have decided, due to the urging of the ultra obnoxious White, that they should to work together within these strict rules to first find out the question and then subsequently answer the question.
One by one the applicants, due to not following the rules for whatever reason, or the shenanigans of others, are shown the door, but what is The Question? Is there even a question to begin with? Hmmm…
While the basis of ‘Exam’ is similar to many movies before it there are some subtle differences which effectively set it apart. There’s the obvious hook of these folks locked in the room as job applicants which was effective, but more subtly through some clever writing Hazeldine was able to create a dire alternate reality outside of our claustrophobic interior that was even more effective in driving our characters actions and behaviors and understanding these actions.
A lot of things have to work in a movie like this, particularly in the absence of, say, having your characters chained to the floor with a saw in the middle of the room. For starters, since we’re stuck in this room, the movie has to be written in a way that it builds upon itself which Exam manages to do. There are some fits and starts along the way but it does work. The editor has to be on his A-game, the characters that inhabit this singular location have to be believable, these believable characters had best have something interesting to say for these 90 or so minutes and they had better recite this dialog they’ve been entrusted with crisply, confidently and competently. This segues into the true strength of ‘Exam’ which are the fine performances of the actors who drive this narrative. Maybe Luke Mably’s character of White felt a little too obnoxious at times but again, as a testament to the way this movie was written and if you are playing very close attention… which is kind of important this movie… it makes sense for White to be the way that he is. I would even venture to say, and this is a little bit of a SPOILER, but WHITE was never seriously a candidate for the job in the first place, even though his character doesn’t know this. Just somebody placed in the room in the first place to make things happen. This is just supposition on my part however.
This leads me to the highest compliment and can actually pay to this little film in that I liked it more the next day than I did after I finished watching it. This movie stuck with me, had me thinking about it a little more about what was really going on and not a lot of movies do that for me.
‘Exam’ isn’t a perfect film, a dialog heavy film based on people stuck in a room is going to have its challenges keeping the audience fully engaged for its entire running time, but it was an impressive debut for Mr. Hazeldine and we are interested in seeing what the man can do once he gets set free from this enclosed room.