E is for Exam

“There is one question before you, and one answer is required.”

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Eight strangers, four men and four woman, sit behind school desks in a minimalistic, grey room (something that wouldn’t look amiss in a Kubrick picture) about to take the next crucial step in a highly secretive but prestigious job application for a large corporation. A final exam that will determine who is worthy of the prize. But it’s not like any other ordinary exam. The candidates must answer just one question correctly in the given time and within the guidelines of the strict rules given to them by the Invigilator (Colin Salmon – Arrow). Sounds relatively easy doesn’t it? There’s just one problem though, they don’t know what the question is and the clock is ticking…

I have to admit I have a soft spot for these kinda movies. Mysterious, suspenseful puzzles with various plot twists throughout are a lot of fun to watch if done correctly. Like the films Saw, Cube or Unknown (the 2006 movie with Greg Kinnear not the Liam Neeson action flick) Exam is all about the main characters being on a level playing field with the viewer at the beginning as the truth (or the point of the movie) is slowly discovered along the way.

Exam is simple yet intricate, clever yet stupid. It’s a movie that you’ll probably either love or hate and nothing in between. I love the concept of it but I wasn’t crazy about it’s delivery. Firstly we never get to know any of our eight candidates by name, which is fine, but it doesn’t really help because as the movie progresses there isn’t really one of them that stands out as a protagonist or someone we can connect with. In fact all the characters are actually quite unlikeable but we’re not really here for the characters, we’re here to solve the puzzle too, and thats’ what really kept me glued to it. Basically from the beginning I was trying to answer the question too, going from plot twist to plot twist, waiting to see what scenario would be ticked off next. The tension is palpable and as each possible explanation is thrown out (and blown off) the movie slowly becomes a psychological mind-fuck. Is this even real? Are all the candidates genuine? Is this just a morality test? A drug fuelled dream? The future? An alternate reality?

Yes if you continue to watch this movie you will probably throw out every formable solution, but as always the real answer is often a lot more simpler than you’d think. I was expecting more from the reveal but I guess it was really all about the journey not the destination.

The whole film takes place is this one small room so it must be applauded for it’s achievement in being able to keep me on edge, keep me interested. Unfortunately the acting doesn’t really stand on par with the writing. I’m not saying the screenplay is a masterpiece, far from it, but at times the acting feels way too forced, like a school play, and definitely brings the believability of the movie down. I don’t want to criticise the actors too much because there’s only so much they can do with what they’re given. There’s moments when some of them shine but on a general level it sorta feels theatrical rather than cinematic. Still for all it’s faults, Exam is definitely worth a watch. If you enjoy puzzle solving and constantly having to think then this might be up your street.

6.5/10

Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter

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