Exam

In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I fell asleep during this movie. However, I feel that the parts I did see (and I think a rough estimate would be that I saw 75% of it) is enough for me to competently, and accurately, review it.

I’m a sucker for these types of movies. I’ve always found the multiple-actors-stuck-in-one-room genre  appealing because even before the film begins you’re left with a puzzle: how is the director going to make this entertaining? And what’s incredible about the genre is how versatile it is – from zombie movies (Pontypool) to science-fiction thrillers (Cube) and almost everything else in between (I ran out of examples). And because of budgetary limitations, films of this genre are also the most creative – making innocuous objects (chairs, lightbulbs, a piece of paper) of abject importance to the characters.

Exam has a great concept: eight elite job candidates have bested hundreds of other hopefuls to get to the final interview, except it isn’t an interview: it’s a test with a blank sheet of paper and an obscure set of rules. The representative of the company, a man who calls himself the “Invigilator” (yes, I rolled my eyes at that too), sets out the rules of the film test:

You have eighty minutes to answer one question.

If you ruin your paper, you are disqualified.

If you talk the Invigilator or the guard, you are disqualified.

If you leave the room, you are disqualified.

And that’s it. Those are the rules of the film that keep the characters trapped in the room for feature-length running time. It’s a great concept, but Exam fumbles the execution.

The most glaring flaw of the film is the wildly different levels of acting ability. The lead (arguably) is White – a snarky Englishman played by Luke Mably who is entertaining, manipulative, but most importantly of all, believable. And then there’s the Brunette (Pollyanna McIntosh) who delivers every line of dialogue in cringeworthy fashion. The rest of the cast vary between the two extremes – but the discrepancy is quite evident when White and Brunette have dialogue with one another.

There’s also other things that bog down what would otherwise be a great entry in the genre. There are multiple flashbacks to the Invigilator’s rule-setting monologue to remind the audience what he said. The problem is there aren’t that many rules, and by the time the third or fourth flashback rolls around the Invigilator’s self-serious and gravelly tone that was intimidating at the beginning becomes self-parody by the end. The ending of the film is similarly unsatisfying – not because what the answer to the exam actually is, but because after the exam is over the film drags on to offer a denouement explaining why the Company decided on such an ineffective and simply ludicrous measure of weeding out the worthy from the unfit. And it’s entirely unconvincing.

Exam is an unfortunate misfire and a prime example how a film in one room can go wrong.

Grade: C-

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