from the netflix dustbin

Exam (2009)
dir. Stuart Hazeldine
wri. Stuart Hazeldine

A deeply stupid movie about deeply stupid people. The basic premise is eight people have made it to the final stage in a very grueling hiring process for a very powerful corporation. The final test they must take, the proctor tells them, consists of one question for which there is only one answer. They will be given eight minutes to answer it. They are not allowed to contact him or the room’s security guard, leave the room, or spoil their paper. If they do, they will fail the test and disqualified from getting the job. Do they have any questions?

The characters flip over their test sheets and realize that it’s blank! Yipes! How are we supposed to answer the question when we can’t even see it on our official test paper?! Better work together to figure this one out, guys! From there the movie-proper starts, in which we are treated to endless volleys of stagy dialog and mind-numbing scenery chewing. After the first fifteen minutes, the whole premise of “let’s solve the mystery!” is put on the back-burner in favor of letting the characters get involved in petty and idiotic conflicts so that they run-out the clock. They get angry, they yell, they manipulate and they threaten one another while the scrolls of the ages slowly unfold, and time passes unto more time until someone looks at the clock and is like “oh man, 40 minutes left…”, at which they all pause poignantly for the briefest of moments before going back to the melodrama.

I think that the basic, foundational problem was that the real conflict is so difficult to make interesting in a way that is filmically interesting, and all the writer could think of doing with his 8 characters was create a big stupid drama out of who each of the characters were, and what their ~mysterious background~ might bring to the table. One’s a psychologist! One’s a gambler! One is black! One has a deep voice! One is a jerk! One has no personality! One can’t stop crying! He then put them on a sliding scale of evil<------->good, and wherever they wound up defined their entire character and how they would behave when in a room with seven other people. That’s it. That’s the meat he tried to grow on the skeleton of a puzzler.

And don’t tire yourself out by jumping to conclusions about the possible value of this meat. None of this morality serves any purpose in terms of making a point, as this is not a particularly moralistic tale. It wasn’t the good guy who won: it was the person who stood in the back of the room the whole movie, and avoided getting involved with everyone, good and bad. One might as well look in a mirror while this is playing, because as a 100% passive viewer of the unfolding yellfest, now you too are the hero. The ragers rage and the white knights ride to save the day, and all of this conflict endures as you sit there, being clubbed over the head with ham-fists that want nothing more than to rile you up and keep you engaged while the timer counted down to the inevitable and mind-blowing reveal.

What’s the reveal? Well, what’s the question? I’ll give you a hint: read the last sentence in the first paragraph out loud, pause, and then say “oh” as you roll your eyes.