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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover



Starring: Colin Salmon, Jimi Mistry, Luke Mably and Gemma Chan
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £22.99
Certificate: 15
Available 07 June 2010

Having completed the preliminary round of tests for the job of a lifetime, eight people find themselves locked in a room for the final test. The rules are simple, if they leave the room they are disqualified, if they spoil their papers they will be disqualified, if they try to talk to either the guard or invigilator they are disqualified. The test has only one question and one answer, but when the candidates turn over their papers they are blank...

Exam (2009 - 1 hr, 36 min, 52 sec) is a clever psychological drama written and directed by Stuart Hazeldine, from an original story by Simon Garrity. The film was nominated for two awards, including a BAFTA.

Some of the ideas in the film will be familiar to film lovers, the idea of naming the central characters by their colour or attributes and the general setting which is not unlike the initial setting for Cube. Of course the fun starts when the candidates turn over their papers to be faced with a blank page, so what, if anything, is the question, and how do they find the answer?

The group initially start to pull apart their environment, the single room in which they are all trapped convinced that the question is written in text that can only be seen under special light, or with the addition of water, they wrestle with the idea that the question is one of moral or animal strength, or perhaps there is no question at all. Through the process the group is slowly whittled down, some leaving due to mistakes, some through treachery.

The film provides as little background information as possible. The world has suffered a mass viral outbreak, with extinction only averted by the company that they are all desperate to join. Because of its monopoly for the drug, the nameless corporation has become more powerful than governments, the candidates are truly outside of the law, with the not veiled threat that should they wish, the company could kill all the candidates with impunity: “There is no law in this room... but our law. No rules in this room.... but our rules.” reminds the adjudicator, played with an icy coolness by Colin Salmon.

The various actors stand in for various aspects of human behaviour under pressure, some want to cooperate, some are secretive and White (Luke Mably) is the big daddy animal circling the pack slowly picking off the weakest. In fact Mably throws himself so much into his role that he stands as one of the best things about the film. He is ably supported by Adar Beck (Dark), Gemma Chan (Chinese), Nathalie Cox (Blond), John Lloyd Fillingham (Deaf), Chukwudi Iwuji (Black), Pollyanna McIntosh (Brunette) and Jimi Mistry (Brown), the unspeaking guard is played by Chris Carey.

Hazeldine proves his self a master of cranking up the tension, without resorting to unnecessary gore and whatever similarities the film may have to other movies are soon forgotten as his characters positions become ever more desperate. The test lasts only eighty minutes, therefore the film plays in almost real time. Will you work out the ending? Well I didn’t and was pleasantly surprised at how appropriate the choice of the final candidate was.

Tim Wooster, the DOP, makes the absolute most of this single room scenario with a collection of cuts and close ups which keep the pace of the film taut till the end. Exam is that rare film which has a clever and well thought out plot, characters that you can believe in and ending that you just won't guess.

The full length commentary is well worth a listen as the director and editor discuss the film, there is a small amount of expected self praise, but this is bolstered by a lot of really interesting information about the film's construction. To further bolster the disc you get the original theatrical trailer (2 min, 07 sec) a photo gallery, Behind The Scenes Footage (5 min, 53 sec) with various shots of the director at work and four interviews with the director (6 min, 15 sec), DOP (1 min, 12 sec), producer (1 min 19 sec) and various members of the cast (13 min, 48 sec).

For what could be considered an independent film the 1080i Blu-ray is a little marvel with sharp definition which handles the shifts between normal and infrared with ease. The audio is either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 with English subtitles.


Charles Packer

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