Exam (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Exam (2009)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Danny LIKELooking for a job blows. I spent about five months last year unemployed and struggling through the selection process, taking each opportunity for an interview to stumble over my words. I stink at the pleasantries that you need, and the confidence that's necessary to be able to find a job based on something other than your qualifications.

Luckily, my qualifications rock, so I'm employed now. Not writing movies, obviously, but we can talk about the dualities necessary to lead a fufilling life at some other point. The tension inherent in unemployment and job interviewing is exploited to it's fullest in Exam, which is new on Netflix Instant and already, I can assure you, unappreciated.

Taking what sounds like a writing prompt: eight job candidates walk into a room and are told to take a test but turn over the piece of paper to find it blank. They have eighty minutes to answer the question, but also to figure out what the question is.

"I got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."


That premise is all well and good, but taking this idea and running with it towards what Richard Kelly writes during one of his more lucid days is nothing short of genius. Layers of a strange future are peeled away carefully, all the while being paralleled with the few facts we know about the men and women who inhabit the cold concrete room.

There are four of each, and most seem to come from different racial stripes. While this can make for some cheeky racial undertones through the film (it's the white guy who assigns all of the character's their given names based on their skin and hair colors and he's the lying cheating dickweed), the film takes pains to set this up as yet another mystery. Sure, all of these people are from different backgrounds-- does that make this job interview a test of tolerance or a game for some sick mind behind the big one-way mirror at the front of the room?

Other dilemmas arise. Knocking out the lights in the room turns another series on. Every liquid that the group has on them is attempted and tested. Person by person, they're weeded out, either by having their copies of the exam destroyed or by the gun from the room's guard who doesn't stop them from taking it.

The metaphysical ideas behind Exam are slightly silly once revealed, and the character who both outwits and survives does so less out of active competition but through quick thinking and careful analysis. I could explain why I think both of those are actually to the film's advantage, but that would kind of give a few things away.

Also they get rid of the characters I like way too early on.

But both of those complaints are immaterial. For thrillers, analyzing is fun, but the movie itself should succeed on its own merits, and Exam does that handily. As a smooth concept well executed, Exam is a lean film that plays upon fears of unemployment and dignity in a fresh and intense way. And that, you can say, is my letter of recommendation.

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Posted by Danny

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