Film: Exam

From the Cube school of clever, economical filmmaking — but better in most respects — comes Exam (2009), a diverting one-set SF mystery about eight applicants vying for the job of a lifetime.

Set in an austere, vaguely Orwellian classroom, Exam opens with its  candidates — four men and four women — filing in to take a test, the final stage of an elaborate interview process. Shortly they’re joined by a man known only as The Invigilator (Colin Salmon), who lays out the rules of the test. The upshot: they are to answer a question, and they have eighty minutes to do it. There’s only one problem: the test papers they’re provided have no questions written on them. The applicants, careful not to violate the rules, work together to decipher the mysterious test. What is the question, and how should it be answered? Can they work together? Can more than one of them pass? Is there even a question, or is it all a mind game? And who will win? All of them? Any of them?

With its deadly serious tone and often stilted dialogue, Exam is an idea film constantly at risk of being eaten by its concept. It does better when keeping its scenario vague, and focusing on the hothouse interactions of its players; plotty information that fleshes out the world beyond the room isn’t handled quite as interestingly. While there are definitely moments when the exercise runs a little wobbly on its rails — particularly late, when new extremes of conflict are manufactured — overall it’s an impressive little puzzler, quite watchable and fun to decipher. Like Cube, it leverages its small set and limited budget to good effect. Unlike Cube, the film is generally well acted by its small ensemble, with Luke Mably perhaps standing out as the group’s most dominant presence. After thought-provoking build-up, Exam aims for an ingenious resolution in its final moments, and while it falls a bit short, I found it a valiant effort. Fun stuff.

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