Edinburgh International Film Festival

Exam (2009)

Starring: Adar Beck, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Luke Mably, Jimi Mistry, Chuk Iwuji, Colin Salmon, Chris Carey

Directed by: Stuart Hazeldine

Rating: 1 2 3

The candidates are in trouble in Stuart Hazeldine's Exam

Most people have a job interview horror story to tell, but few can be as nightmarish as the application process set out for the protagonists of Exam.  Eight candidates from very different backgrounds are locked in a room with an armed security guard and told to answer a question. The problem is, there is no question.

The obvious solution is to work together to come up with a question within their allotted eighty minutes, but as anyone who's seen The Apprentice knows, selfish, ambitious people desperate for a top job aren't necessarily very good at cooperating with each other, and soon they're bickering, fighting and threatening unspeakable violence in a way that would have SurrAlan choking on his boardroom coffee.

Sounds like a great premise for a film, right? Unfortunately, it doesn't entirely work. For starters, the characters are all so stereotyped and rotten you hardly care who lives or dies – or indeed gets the job, whatever the job may be. From the city slicker bullyboy to the brainy psychiatrist (brains of course signified by the fact that she wears glasses), the sweating nervous wreck to the laid-back rule-breaker and the icy blonde, the characterisation is hardly subtle.

For a film that rests entirely on building up claustrophobic tension through dialogue, the script isn't really snappy or clever enough to hold the attention and I found myself watching the eighty minutes tick down as closely as the candidates. As for the final shaggy dog story punchline twist (and you knew there had to be one), it actually elicits a groan from the audience.

So all in all, an interesting concept, well introduced, that fails to live up to its initial promise. Perhaps it would have been more successful as a play or BBC drama but as a movie, I give Exam three marks out of five. Nevertheless, first-time director Stuart Hazeldine is definitely one to watch, as I really think he could do better…

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