This is one standardized test Judge Daniel Carlton did not study for.
Eighty minutes to determine the next eighty years of your lives.
Exam is an entertaining film for those who enjoy an Outer Limits-type pseudo-mystery. The movie's premise isn't anything we haven't seen before, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth watching. The characters were interesting enough to keep me wondering on who might be next to be eliminated from the job pool.
Facts of the Case
Eight candidates enter a room for the final stage of a job interview for a Fortune 500 job. The room consists of eights desks with nothing more than eight pencils and eight blank pieces of paper. A moderator who enters the room gives only the instruction to answer one question, but he does not tell what the question is. He leaves the room and the candidates have eighty minutes to solve the riddle put before them. Will they work together to find the question, or is it every man for himself? That depends on how badly they want the job.
Anyone who has seen the films Saw, Cube, or Nine Dead will instantly be reminded of them within minutes of beginning Exam. In each of these films, a group of people must figure out why they are where they are and how to solve the problem they are in. The difference with Exam is that we know these people are interviewing for a company, but that is the extent of their knowledge. I completely admit that I have an affinity for these types of films because, although they seldom contain elements of science fiction, I am somehow reminded of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, where characters commonly find themselves in inexplicable situations. Exam delivers this idea successfully, because where many films fail to keep the viewer engaged, Exam never takes the expected route with the characters' actions, thus giving it the much needed level of suspense needed to make a film like this work.
The success or failure of this type of film relies almost solely on the strength of the characters, because more often than not the story is confined to one environment. Exam is no different, as the entire film is set in one large room, which could easily double as a boardroom on the Battlestar Galactica. This space-age atmosphere is ripe with sleek lighting and hi-tech keypads near the doors. The room's ambiance only adds to the perplexity of the situation the characters are in. With no grandiose instruction manual or even a hint at outside help, the candidates are left to discover the question amongst themselves. We quickly discover who is the jerk of the bunch, who is the quiet one, and so on. This is intentional, so that the viewer will begin rooting for certain people and hope that the outcome is the way we want it to be. Exam not only plays with that idea, but turns it around at the same time by not doing what is expected.
Like most of these types of films, it isn't long before the 'inmates' are clawing at each other. In this case, the candidates bicker with each other and begin breaking things within a matter of minutes. Considering that these interviewees are supposed to be the cream of the crop, I was surprised at how quickly the batch of young executives began acting completely irrational. Sure, one conversation revolves around how truly wonderful landing the job would be, thus giving a motive to the characters for the erratic behavior, but in reality the erratic behavior is what gives the film its dynamic. I imagine that if the executives had simply sat in their chairs for eighty minutes, it would have been quite the bore. Instead, it is better to sit back and enjoy the film, not taking the characters too seriously or asking yourself what you would do in that situation. Hell, I'd probably punch a stranger too if the pay was high enough.
Although the premise felt vaguely familiar, I can't deny that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Exam. Never for a minute was I looking at my watch or wondering if the story would go anywhere. For those who are fans of Saw or Cube, you will be delightfully surprised at how well written Exam is. I must tell the truth and say I did guess a huge part of the ending about forty minutes in, but even that didn't keep me from enjoying watching the story unravel.
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