‘The Exam’ is one of the those films I associate with genre festivals with its smart(ish) plot having elements akin to other horror films, tense and with threat, but without anything typically horror-ific happening it stands out amongst the crowd.
That said, whilst it has uniqueness on its side, there are fairly obvious influences on the films mysterious plot, with other left-field genre films such as ‘Cube’ and ‘Das Experiment’ reflected in its aesthetic and claustrophobic location.
Set entirely in one room the plot follows a group of 8 applicants who, having reached the end of a reportedly gruelling selection process, have one last task to complete if they are to be selected for a job with a large and mysterious corporation. The final task, introduced by a character who refers to himself as ‘the invigilator’ is an exam, one question which has only one answer; the only issue is, other than a candidate number, the question isn’t printed on anyone’s script! There are a couple of other rules, no defacing the exam paper, and no interaction with either the aforementioned invigilator or the armed guard who stands at the door of the room. Naturally, they can’t leave the room either.
Presented with the problem, they must use their own resourcefulness to try to figure out the problem, straddling a fine line between co-operation and competition; needless to say, things don’t stay civil for long.
For once, the label of psychological thriller is bang on the money. ‘The Exam’ requires you to invest in its characters and more importantly, what party of humanity they represent. You’ve probably guessed by now that this is a film which focusses more on the social interaction, than being an escape-the-room style puzzler. The characters presented are so-so, as are actors depicting them. There are the typical character stereotypes, the aggressive leader, the calmer mediator, the emotional woman, and the strong independent woman and of course the emerging dominant personas who ultimately form the films antagonist and protagonist. It’s a shame that there weren’t a couple of wild cards thrown in there to add some extra spice, as it was a bit to apparent that a couple of the already limited cast were only there to be made examples of, rather than to contribute.
In order to preserve the films mystery the dialogue has to be pretty tight, here credited writers Stuart Hazeldine and Simon Garrity do a great job of providing enough exposition to give the film context, but not too much so as to ruin the mystique. Equally, the films pacing was well thought through with some well-timed set pieces redirecting the films flow and direction through the characters actions. Whilst the film is set entirely in a single, windowless room, the group make several key decisions which subtly changes the environment, stopping the film from feeling too monotonous.
The film certainly starts strong, however, as with all movies of this ilk, it’s a tall order (and some genuine creativity) to end on the same plateaux. ‘The Exam’ has that dip at the end. The character actions begin to unravel into cliché bickering, and the ending, well, it tries to differentiate itself, and despite a bit of dressing, its pretty much just an end rather than a revelation.
Overall ‘The Exam’ is simply put, an interesting, if not exceptional flick. I watched with my wife, and we both agreed, it was surprisingly engaging, but the ending just didn’t deliver anything worthy of a revisit. For that something different ‘The Exam’ is worth a (likely singular) watch.