★ / ★★★★
Written by Stuart Hazeldine and Simon Garrity, “Exam” commands a fascinating premise involving eight candidates who are up for a most mysterious position, but the payoff is so slight, so insignificant, that in the end one is forced to wonder if sitting through the picture was even worth one’s time. In a movie like this, purposefully cerebral in context and clinical mood, there should not be a question as to whether the investment was worth it.
Most compelling is the first fifteen to twenty minutes. We observe the eight individuals, four men and four women from diverse backgrounds, as they make last-minute preparations for the interview, how they carry themselves in the testing room, and how they are more able to relax once they have been presented with a task. The ride prior to the rising action relies on images rather than words. We feel the nerves of each candidate.
We take note of the chilly environment. The metallic-looking room resembles that of a government facility or a hospital. It looks clean but there is no sign of a trash can. Distances among tables and chairs appear to have been precisely measured. There is one piece of paper and one pencil on each desk. They, too, are perfectly arranged, about six inches away from one another. We notice where the lights are, the vents, the wide-screen television and a black box underneath it.
The film grows progressively weaker once the hopefuls begin to speak to one another. Although the dialogue is delivered by all performers with a specific tone, rhythm, and confidence, the lines uttered are quite bland. The one-note script only grows increasingly tiresome especially because the second act is drawn-out, lasting over an hour long. Nothing game-changing happens during this hour and it becomes a trial to endure.
The best movies involving people who find themselves stuck in one place tend to have an important commonality. That is, the screenplay gives the audience a chance to fully understand what drives the characters, to appreciate their histories, to surmise an explanation as to why they are the way they are. Here, each is mostly defined by his or her behavior only. So, when a candidate is disqualified, hurt, or volunteers to no longer be considered for the position, there is a noticeable lack of emotional consequence.
Directed by Stuart Hazeldine, “Exam” offers a curious premise and it will likely appeal to those who love solving puzzles. But the movie is neither smart nor for people who have busy lives. The payoff, a sort-of twist ending, is so simple, it borders on silliness and pointlessness.