This 2009 film is a combination of mystery, thriller and science fiction. After I had written an article on the 2010 film Hunter Prey, I got a comment from words on charcoal who recommended that I watch Exam. It is another small budget film on Netflix, that unlike Hunter Prey was filmed traditionally rather than digitally. He also said it was quite good.
He was right.
So before, I talk about the film I need to thank words on charcoal Thanks mate, it is a cracking little film.
Like Hunter Prey, Exam utilises a minimalist set. It takes place in a room and a very small portion of a hallway. Inside the room are eight chairs and tables, a digital wall clock that is also a timer. It also has what looks suspiciously like a flat screen television, a big one, embedded into wall over the timer. Each corner of the room has surveillance camera at the top of the wall.
As the film begins we get tiny glimpses of eight different people as the cast list scrolls, each doing something presumably to prepare themselves for the exam. One washes their face, another takes a pill and crunches it quickly with his teeth. Each person in this slow moving ‘montage’ is slowly and methodically gearing themselves up.
We then see the room where the exam will take place.
The camera pans slowly through the room. It is ‘modernistic’ and minimalistic in design. Intriguingly it has a covered drain running the length of the room between the two rows of chairs and tables. Each table has one sheet of paper and one pencil. The paper only contains the word CANDIDATE and a number.
The door to the room opens by sliding into the wall silently and the candidates enter the room, and looking at the numbered sheet on the table, take their respective seats. Once they are seated an armed guard comes in and takes position by the door. Then another man walks in. He introduces himself as the invigilator and tells them the rules of the exam.
The exam takes 80 minutes and consists of one question only, and that there are three rules: do not talk to the Invigilator or the armed guard at the door, do not spoil the paper, and do not leave the room. Not obeying the rules will result in disqualification. He also tells the group that in this room, the only rules are the company rules that he has just listed.
The Invigilator (played by Colin Salmon, a personal favourite in this house) finishes his spiel and asks if anyone has any questions. None of the candidates speak so he leaves. Once he is gone the candidates turn over their sheet of paper and find it is blank.
This is a marvellous little gem of a film. Even though it takes place in one room, with the exception of the short hallway scenes where violators of the rules are taken, the film is riveting. As the candidates attempt to figure out what is required of them, we are joining in. We also see the individual characters arc and the group dynamic changes and flows as the situation of the exam itself changes.
Like trying to solve a puzzle, the film and the characters in it feel like allies in a search for the answer. I am sure that not everyone who watches the film will ‘actively’ participate in the little groups search. But we did. The film was paused several times while my daughter and I discussed the characters and came up with possible scenarios and character analysis of the candidates.
The film feels like a spiritual relative of the 1997 film Cube. Another “locked room” film that requires it’s disparate group of people to also solve a puzzle of sorts to escape their dilemma. But in the exam the solving of the puzzle doesn’t equal escape or freedom. It offers long and fruitful employment with a prestigious company.
The opening of the film offers much in the implication of prior events. The Invigilator speaks of the ‘lengths’ that the final eight candidates went to. He implies that is a brutal competition with no holds barred. He also indicates that the intelligence level of the group is quite high and that they are the ‘best’ in their respective fields.
Exam is a ‘straight to video’ film that was also released as a ‘video on demand.’ So I have no way of seeing just how well the film performed on ‘release’ but I’d like to think that it was well received.
Films like Exam and Hunter Prey go a long way in proving that it is possible to make a limited budget independent film look like a studio release. The cinematography is crisp and the editing of the film spot on. And most importantly the film stock used was of sufficient quality that it did not have that ‘Indie’ look.
I would highly recommend watching this British Indie film. It is another example of why independent films are so essential to the business.
Luke Mably as White
Adar Beck as Dark
Chris Carey as Guard
Gemma Chan as Chinese Girl
Nathalie Cox as Blonde
John Lloyd Fillingham as Deaf
Chukwudi Iwuji as Black (credited as “Chuk Iwuji“)
Pollyanna McIntosh as Brunette
Jimi Mistry as Brown
Colin Salmon as Invigilator
Directed/written by Stuart Hazeldine
- Hunter Prey (2010): Survival of the Fittest (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- Column: Indie vs. blockbuster is dividing modern film industry (elonpendulum.com)
- UK independent films enjoy best year for more than a decade (guardian.co.uk)
- A Composer’s Journey- Shuttlecock Boys (madaboutmoviez.com)