With unemployment at an uncomfortably high level and the economy still noticeably suffering, people are struggling to find a job, any job, to pay their bills. Writer/director Stuart Hazeldine’s debut film Exam takes this difficult job climate a bit further, imagining an even harsher job climate in the near future (the timeframe is simply “Soon”) and then placing eight high-achieving job candidates in a room to take a final test for the position of a lifetime.
I’m a sucker for any film with a small cast and this film has only 10 characters – the eight job candidates, a security guard, and the Invigilator (British word for proctor – it sounds much more dangerous, doesn’t it?). After a brief introduction to the characters – watching them prepare for the interview – the movie kicks off. The eight candidates sit down in a room, each at a desk with a blank piece of paper on it (with only the words “Candidate 1″, “Candidate 2″, etc), and the Invigilator gives them their instructions before starting an 80 minute countdown and leaving the room. It’s not long before the psychological drama unfolds, as each candidate works to figure out what the goal of the exam is and outsmart the others.
Some of this action and dialogue creeps a bit into the melodramatic, as when one character states with deadly seriousness, “I studied Psychology too… and reverse psychology!” But the script helps us to understand the desperation (though not the over-dramatics) of our characters, by feeding us a bit of the backstory of this future world: a pandemic has broken out that has infected most of the world. One pharmaceutical company, BioOrg, has developed a cure for this disease and thus quickly become the largest corporation in the history of the world. Apparently the position these candidates are applying for is a high-level spot within this organization. And since each of them has some personal connection with the virus, it is extremely important to them to secure the job. And that’s the movie’s central question: How important can a job be? What would you do to secure the job of your dreams?
There’s a lot of talking and speculating that doesn’t lead us anywhere new as an audience, but the tight quarters and small cast keeps the film grounded. The characters are given names to identify them based on their physical characteristics (Black, Brown, White, Blonde, Brunette, Dark, Deaf, Chinese) which keeps the story simple while simultaneously reminding us how dehumanizing the job search can be, whittling people down to a few distinguishing characteristics. Exam is not a perfect movie, and the reveal at the end is somewhat disappointing, but it has a lot going for it as a taut psychological thriller. The 80 minute countdown plays out in real time, and though I never really connected with any of the candidates, I did get a sense of being in the room and what I might do in a similar situation. Here’s hoping the job market doesn’t come to this!
Zach’s Rating: C+
Perfect For: A low-budget thrill ride
Stay Away if: You like to puzzle things out yourself rather than have them spelled out
To purchase Exam, visit Amazon