Friday, 1 January 2010

 Exam (2009) 
  Reviewed by Joe Utichi  

The British film industry does plenty of things often. Some would say too often. If it’s an East End gangster film, a twee rom-com or a corseted period piece, it’ll find a producer. Sci-Fi is a concept the British seemed to have totally forgotten until last year saw the release of two films which promised to breathe much-needed life and variety into our industry. The first was Moon, and if you haven’t already seen Duncan Jones’s tale of cloned scientists on a lunar base you’ll find it one of the finest of the year.

The second was Exam, which premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival back in June and finally releases into a limited number of screens on 8th January ahead of a DVD release. Like Moon, it’s the product of a debut director, here screenwriter Stuart Hazeldine, and paints a grand canvas on a modest budget. And like Moon, it packs a tremendous punch in spite of its small scale.

The premise is simple; a group of ethnically diverse candidates (including Luke Mably and Jimi Mistry) enter a room to compete for an important, but mysterious job at a high-profile company. They have one question to answer, but only blank sheets in front of them and a strict set of rules which will eject them if they spoil their papers. Over the course of 80 minutes – in near real time – they come to learn more about each other at tremendous cost.

Set entirely in one room, its able cast and taut script keep up the tension while Hazeldine’s pace ensures we never feel starved by the limited environment. One-room films can so often feel like plays on the big-screen, but Exam leaks information about the world outside the doors so expertly that we feel we’re in a universe as fully-formed as you might find in Star Wars or Blade Runner.

It won’t be universally appealing, but it’ll grab fans of true science fiction and refuse to let go. And it’s exactly the sort of film we should be making more of in this country. That it relied on Hazeldine’s determination – and wallet – to get it off the ground and onto cinema screens is a great shame. A screen showing Exam might be a bit of a journey away, but rest assured: it’s a journey well worth taking. Four stars.

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