Exam is British film directed by Stuart Hazeldine, who co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Garrity. In it, eight people have been short listed for a job at a mysterious medical company that provides a cure for an illness that has swept the globe.
From the moment Exam starts, briefly introducing us to each of the eight candidates and the room in which they’ll spend the next eighty minutes, it is dripping in dark style.
The Invigilator (Colin Salmon), is an imposing figure who tells the candidates that they cannot talk to him or the guard, followed by a list of other rules that could lead to their disqualification. From there on, it’s an eighty-minute opportunity for the candidates to answer a single question. The first candidate is expelled within the first two minutes when she inadvertently breaks the nib of her pencil, spoiling her paper in the process. It’s a hard test, clearly, and this just adds to the tension in the room.
Realising they can communicate with each other, the candidates set about trying to establish what they need to do to succeed. Reduced to referring to each other by nicknames given by White (Luke Mably), they attempt to find out what they are meant to be doing, turning to everything in the room for the answer. As time runs out, each candidate is locked in mind games with one another, revealing how they found out about the job, what little they know of the company and uncovering each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
We also discover the lengths that they’ll go to in order to get what sounds like a perfect job as White, Brown (Jimi Mistry) and Black (Chukwudi Iwuji) struggle for the role of alpha male, whilst Brunette (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Blonde (Nathalie Cox) show that women have just as valuable a place in the cutthroat world of business.
The end has a distinctly The Usual Suspects feel to it, but it’s still satisfying. As the survivor takes stock of the decisions that were made to get to the final moment, we discover the company isn’t as evil as their interview process and that, even in such darkness, morality and integrity are just as important as ambition.
It’s a brilliantly crafted character piece that builds from one tense moment to the next. Overall, it’s a complex, intelligently written and satisfying puzzle of a film that doesn’t rely on over-the-top shock tactics or gory moments to startle you.
Though well lit, the film features many dark colours (the room, suits and furniture are predominantly black), making for a crisp 30Mbps+ picture where the brightness of flesh tones and shirts stand out even more. When the film switches from natural lighting to red lighting, we’re still delivered a strong picture. The sound track is mainly present in the front speakers as the film is dialogue driven, though the occasional use of a soundtrack that heavily features strings and brass helps to create an effective sense of tension.
The director’s commentary features Stuart Hazeldine and editor Mark Talbot-Butler as they talk us through the film. Hazeldine is an engaging orator, giving incredible depth to the technical aspects of the film and his casting and filming decisions. What made the commentary particularly interesting was Hazeldine’s commentary on Exam‘s chronological filming process, the freedom he gave the actors, and the post-production process.
The Photo Gallery does exactly what it says on the tin, and shows the cast and sets during various stages of filming.
Behind the Scenes Footage, again, is self-explanatory, and looks at the filming of a couple of scenes. It runs for just under six minutes and is presented in standard definition.
There are four interview sections. Stuart Hazeldine discusses his move from writer to director. Producer Gareth Unwin briefly talks about what brought him to the project (respect for Hazeldine and the script), the director of photography speaks about the challenges of filming Exam, and the cast talk about their characters and working on the production.
Altogether, the four sections are really quite interesting, though they could have formed part of a unforgivably absent “Making Of Exam.”
Exam is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.