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  Exam Questions, Questions
Year: 2009
Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Stars: Adar Beck, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Chukwudi Iwuji, Luke Mably, Pollyanna McIntosh, Jimi Mistry, Colin Salmon, Chris Carey
Genre: Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eight applicants are admitted to the examination room for a test to prove who is the best candidate for this new job. They sit at desks they have been assigned to by number, noting the paper and pencil that lie there, and await further instructions. It's not a long wait as the invigilator (Colin Salmon) enters and tells them they have eighty minutes to answer the question on the sheet, but if they should spoil their paper, accidentally or purposefully, they will be escorted from the premises by the guard who will be present at all times. Any questions?

Ever since Cube was a cult success, there had been a minor subgenre of films that put a bunch of people in a confined space, usually having some kind of puzzle to work out, stuff like Pontypool or, the most extreme example, Buried. The grandaddy of this type of movie was probably Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, but that episode of The Twilight Zone where the collection of strangers were gathered in a blank room with no idea of where they were was more the spiritual ancestor, because it featured the more fantastical element that could go either way, into science fiction or into horror.

It was the science fiction way that Exam went, and not simply because it looks as if it's taking place in some room off a main corridor of the Death Star. You don't find out that there's a sci-fi aspect to this until halfway through, and even then not much is explained until the very end so that we are as much in the dark about what is happening and what the purpose of the examination is as the candidates. They are baffled when there is no question to be seen on the paper, with the only writing on it being their designation: Candidate 1, Candidate 2, and so on, so they suss right away that this is some kind of psychological test. Or at least seven of them do.

Yes, one poor girl begins to write an essay and is immediately frogmarched from the room protesting loudly, so that's one down almost immediately. Those remaining begin to try to outthink their predicament, seeing if they can work out what, if anything, is written on their papers in other ways by holding them up to the light and suchlike, but each time they are foiled. In the meantime, the most obnoxious of them has given them all names based on what they look like: he, for example, is White (Luke Mably), although the muttering and apparently psychologically disturbed man sitting up front (John Lloyd Fillingham) is dubbed "Deaf" because he refuses to participate.

If this were to happen in the real world, it's highly doubtful that events would turn out the way they do. Most people would sit and chat, and not, say, start torturing their fellow applicants in the suspicion that they were withholding information, so the suspension of disbelief becomes strained the further into the story we get. But writer and director Stuart Hazeldine, to his credit, does not introduce anything extraneous in the service of that plot, so every detail matters and is used at some stage in the story. It's just that once all is revealed, as is so often with these conundrum based movies, you feel a little let down, as the test was frankly insane and whether you'd want to work for someone who set up those kinds of tasks before you had even got the job is dubious at best. Even if you did have the chance to save the world. Music by Stephen Barton and Matthew Cracknell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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