If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
EXAM, out on DVD from IFC/MPI, is a slick and astute
thriller that’s never dull, but never quite grips us like it should. The
premise—eight strangers vying in cutthroat fashion for a high-profile corporate
job offering—is intriguing. The setup—an enigmatic man known only as the
“Invigilator” stepping in to brief the group on their objective in coded yet
concise directions—is intriguing. The possibilities—what might happen between
these candidates in what’s seemingly the most definitive 80 minutes of their
lives—is damn intriguing. EXAM’s succeeding events, we learn, will revolve
around the freshly introduced group’s efforts to answer one question—the catch
being that they don’t know what that question is—and my head is nearly about to
The film’s opening moments ooze with mystery and
anticipation, so where did it lose me? Let me begin by asking my own
question—and you won’t have to read this entire review to unravel what it is, I
promise. What exactly are the perks of this job? After all, the description
remains nothing but a vague offer of prestige. Why scheme for it? Lie for it? Kill
for it? EXAM’s only answer seems to be that competition has, by nature, eroded
into some perverse twist on THE APPRENTICE, though I’m not so sure I’m as
convinced of that as the candidates are. Call me what you will, but unless the
light at the end of the tunnel was guaranteed co-ownership of that once-rumored
spanking new NFL expansion team with Mark Zuckerberg and Snoop Dogg, I think
I’d pack up my things and take my résumé elsewhere.
Each person in the group is issued a blank sheet of paper.
Once the games have begun, a long stretch of silence amongst the contenders is
broken when one woman (Gemma Chan) begins writing on hers, and is instantly
removed by an overseeing guard. She shuffles, panics, begins to weep, even
cries “Mama-san!” as if to suggest her premature failure has somehow let her
mother down—but we’ve seen her all of five minutes. On to the next one, I
suppose… EXAM essentially lets loose of its stranglehold from the moment this
woman is made an “example” of; her instant disposal plays like a forced attempt
to raise the stakes of their game higher, while forgetting to provide any real
reason for playing.
As viewers, we become much like lab observers overseeing
seven rats in a maze, which can be amusing. The anonymity of it all is worked
through by means of a RESERVOIR DOGS-style nickname-assignment exercise based
on outward appearance and traits, with characters quickly dubbing one another
White (Luke Mably), Blonde (Nathalie Cox), Brown (Jimi Mistry), Dark (Adar
Beck), Black (Chuk Iwuji), Brunette (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Deaf (John Lloyd
Fillingham). From there, EXAM relies heavily on cerebral exercises, tossing out
cryptic language and strange, elaborate illusions to further uncover the hidden
layers of its TWILIGHT ZONE-esque scenario—said layers being generally clever
and best left unrevealed to those who’ll jump at the chance to play guessing
But it’s the stir-crazy/disorientation potential of being
stuck in a room where you’re on a rigorous time constraint, and virtually nothing
is revealed to you, that never enters the picture. EXAM has been inevitably
compared to SAW for its stripped-down claustrophobia, but comparisons to
anything remotely horrific remain at the surface level. Instead, we get more of
an undercooked LORD OF THE FLIES-type downward spiral, where by this point,
investment in the lives of these people beyond this room simply doesn’t matter.
Thankfully, EXAM never becomes dead in the water, and
doesn’t overextend its welcome. It’s compellingly acted and quick on its feet.
The polished cinematography, by Tim Wooster, stirs up a cold, sterile air of
sinister professionalism that’s presented well in the DVD’s widescreen
transfer. Its sound, though not a complex element of writer/director Stuart
Hazeldine and co-writer Simon Garrity’s dialogue-heavy scenario, also serves
sufficiently in its own right. No special features are included other than a trailer.
SPOILER ALERT: Once all is said and done, someone has landed
a job at a pharmaceutical company. I’m curious to ask that someone if it was
worth the ordeal. As for that team with Zuck and Snoop, still no word.
DVD/ Blu-ray Reviews
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment