31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 9: Exam (2009)

I feel like I’m cheating just a tiny little bit because I had already watched about 20 minutes of this movie last year. Then halfway through the movie, I’d remembered that I’d completely spoiled it for myself by looking up the ending because I was too impatient to watch it again. But, since it was already half-past midnight and I’d been in a training session all day and I’ve got another one in exactly seven hours (minus two hours for getting ready and commuting, meaning I’m going to get five hours’ sleep max), this felt easy to tack on to the end of a very long day. And the corporate-esque send-up theme of the movie kind of went well with the accidental self-pastiching that was this training session.

The opening scenes of Exam (2009) are a series of extreme close-up vignettes, all depicting the various characters nervously preparing to leave their homes for an exam. Invoking both the interminability and uncertainty of a school exam, with the pressure and nervous air of a coveted job interview, the tension is practically being handed to us by way of the filmmakers (so it’s a little strange to see why it fell so flat). Set in the near future (“soon”), the candidates arrive in a windowless, grey, cold, corporate-dungeon-looking room and are given a series of instructions (do not spoil your paper; do not speak to the guard or invigilator; and if you leave the room, you are disqualified). As the exam begins and the candidates discover the paper is blank, the already stressed-out candidates start to get paranoid and desperate, particularly as jobs are  scarce in this new future, and a sudden disease, which has wiped out a good chunk of mankind, can only be treated with expensive drugs that are manufactured by the company. And did I mention the exam was timed (kind of like my training)…?

With the entirety of the film taking place in the one room (not even any flashbacks), it’s easy to see how this might have worked as a play, particularly in light of the rather simplistic dialogue, which might have pulled in a more effective rapport from a live audience. Better it seems, suited to the stage, was the acting on display – slightly wooden and almost phoned-in, even from the usually solid Jimi Mistry. Editing was slow, with the camera lingering on expressionless faces, and the sense of tension that could have been derived from (exam + interview terrors + overall uncertainty + clashing personalities + tiny inescapable room) deflates rather quickly. There isn’t much in the way of character development, and as a result, many of said characters’ actions come off as slightly implausible plot devices. When the ending does finally come, it’s dragged out and built up only to sort of wither away with a character’s pointless dithering, and a bit of an orchestral swell and secondary character’s mini speech to spell out an already-obvious climax for us. Thanks, Scoob.

Thankfully, my training was nothing like this British movie; it was kind of more interesting Billed as a horror, this movie felt more like a psychological thriller that thinks it’s trying to be clever (particularly when one character says he’s using psychology to accuse a psychology student of being a psychiatrist). Moments in which the characters comment disdainfully on the nature of the exam is surely an attempt to graze the fourth wall without indulging in breaking it. After all, “if you leave the room, you will be disqualified”.

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