Smells like a lot of sweaty palms – Exam

This is a pacey thriller that does not disappoint in terms of suspense. It is set in the near future and deals with all too real issues. Gripping throughout the ensemble cast of varying abilities bring Stuart Hazeldine’s script to life in this tense home grown film. Hazeldine’s first outing as director is a class act with a tight script and good use of space. Moral dilemmas and issues of greed, ambition and prejudice abound and this is a story that gets you thinking.

Right from the opening titles this low budget Brit-flick is full of pace and suspense. Coming in at a mere 101 minutes it feels like less.

Eight candidates have reached the final stage of a selection process in order to gain entry to a powerful and shady corporation. As they enter a small room with no windows and an armed guard, the Invigilator gives them eighty minutes to answer one question; there are three rules they must obey to avoid disqualification: don’t try and communicate with him or the guard, don’t spoil the exam paper (intentionally or accidentally) and don’t leave the room for any reason. The clock is started and they are left alone with the guard and what turn out to be blank question papers.

All the characters are known by nicknames given to them by the most domineering character who calls himself White (Luke Mably); Jimi Mistry becomes Brown, the MTA (Model Turned Actress) in the grey suit becomes Blonde (Nathalie Cox) and Chukwudi Iwuji becomes Black – the stereotyping of each person sets an immediate conflicting tone whereby they are trying to work as a team and yet are always working against each other.

As their efforts to uncover what is happening in the exam become more frustrated their prejudices and paranoia about each other becomes more heightened. The atmosphere becomes increasingly tense as their time is running out and only one of them can secure the big job that is on offer.

The single room setting makes for a brilliantly tense and dark atmosphere, you feel the claustrophobia and the threat of violence seems implicit right from the start. Casting some well known faces Colin Salmon (Invigilator) and Jimi Mistry helps raise the bar in terms of talent – if only all the casting was as high quality the film could have been even better, as it was the wide range of talent on show at times fell a little short of the demands of the script.

As their numbers reduce in varying ways you don’t know who is next to be eliminated or how. The inclusive structure and small scale really draws you in as an audience and you really do care about what is going to happen.

Set “Soon” the issues are uncomfortably close to home; a worldwide pandemic that is killing off young fit people (much like the swine flu predicted pandemic we have been warned is a matter of when not if), the faceless power behind big corporations and the cost and control of life saving drugs.

Written by Stuart Hazeldine it is his first feature and despite success as a screen writer in Hollywood he always knew he wanted the creative control being a director could bring. Shot in 26 days for less than a million the mix of character types makes for interesting scenarios developing in unexpected ways.

It shows that an intelligent story can carry a film, much like “12 Angry Men”, the one room setting and the lack of big effects or set pieces makes for a refreshing change from big blockbusters. More films like this could really set a precedent for what can be done in the UK for little money and good ideas.

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