Now I have to thank the company who dropped me a copy of Exam on Blu-ray for I got a chance to see the film in glorious high definition and along with a director's commentary to find out a little more about the film itself.
Anyway the plot for Exam is relatively simple. Eight very different strangers have reached the final stage of a recruitment process and all that's left is a single exam. However there appears to be no question, no purpose, and in a room with no windows and blank candidate questionnaire sheets a countdown is set in motion. The exam is under way.
Exam has a great idea that reminds you of some great thrillers, films like 12 Angry Men which hits the idea of strangers with different personalities and agendas pulled together into one room, and of a film that focuses on the interactions between these characters. The plot also follows some of my favourite thrillers, films which initially keep the audience in the dark as much as the main character or characters that we see on screen, and as they discover things about their situation, so do we. These two aspects are perhaps the two biggest parts of my favourite thrillers, and Exam has them both.
The script is really well written and leaves a lot unsaid and unexplained, making it more like real life. There are no characters over explaining events to the camera or to other characters, there are no great monologues to help the audience catch up, and there are no other lazy story telling ploys used to spoon feed the audience. Here we are given exactly what we need and when we need it to progress the story and take us, and the characters, to the next stage.
In a lot of stages the audience are left to make up their own minds rather than having everything spelled out for us, and that does make you feel a lot more involved as well as give the feeling that you are moving along with the story as the characters do.
This also helps to build the tension and deliver some surprises at the end of the film, for we're kept guessing and wondering about outcomes and motives rather than making connections through the film and keeping ahead of the characters. Playing catch up with the story does lend itself well to building the tension and the suspense.
I really did love the way that the little things come together throughout the film, small aspects of shots seen earlier on are referenced later and become a bigger, and sometimes integral part of the story when at first they just seemed like a nice little touch in a previous scene.
There's careful attention to detail in the script and in the film itself, and that adds to the quality of Exam clearly pointing a more than healthy return to script, story and characters.
I'm not utterly convinced by the ending through, the explanation of the events and the story behind them does feel a little like over talking, but then at the same time there's something of a pay off to the moment when compared to the rest of the film. I'm still in two minds as to whether we needed the final explanations of who is behind the Exam and why, although I can see why it does work, I can't help but wonder if a more sparse and open ending would have left the audience with a better feel for the film.
As it is the ending does feel like it's building up to a big reveal, but it doesn't quite deliver that in terms of film surprises. There certainly are a few surprises, but I never had as much a reaction to them as I was to the rest of the film.
There are a number of strong performances as Stuart Hazeldine has lined up a good cast of actors. They are names you might not have heard of, but they do deliver, particularly Luke Mably who plays White, the driving force of the film. He gives a great performance and proves to be a quite unlikable character that focuses your attention well. He's ably backed up by Adar Beck, Jimi Mistry, Pollyanna McIntosh, Chukwudi Iwuji, Nathalie Cox, and Gemma Chan with some superb short appearances from Colin Salmon, John Lloyd Fillingham and Chris Carey.
The film looks really good with strong cinematography and a slick style reflected in the sets, costumes and above all the challenging lighting that changes a number of times in the film. It certainly looks like a film that has much larger production values than it actually does. The visuals are strong from the opening and do draw you right into the story with some excellent framing showing that Hazeldine, and his director of photography, have a lot to offer.
The opening is especially good as it delivers a little piece of the personality of some of the major characters, or some indication of just how strong the previous examinations have been. I really liked the intimate, character based shots of this opening, and it did set you up for the rest of the film. Part of me would have liked a little more of this to perhaps have given us more to the characters, but perhaps then the little references which pay off later might not have felt as good.
The picture looks fantastic, and as I said before really does feel as though it was a much bigger production with such high quality in the lighting and photography. During the film there are a number of sections that carry different lighting, some of which just wouldn't work on film in real life, but a fantastic job has been done in giving each of these sections a different look and feel. Hazeldine is also proving that he's a fantastic director and has a great eye for framing a shot as well as bringing together the elements of a scene. It looks good on Blu-ray and handles the different lighting conditions and the darkness levels really well.
Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
The audio is strong through the film, although there's not a great deal to test out the 5.1 speakers, but it does sound good with the soundtrack and there are some subtle effects that make use of the multiple speakers such as a ticking clock. Nothing spectacular, but then the film is mostly all dialogue.
Audio Commentary with director and co-writer Stuart Hazeldine and editor Mark Talbot-Butler, Interviews: Director, Director of Photography, Producer and Cast, Behind the Scenes Footage, Photo Gallery
Audio Commentary with director and co-writer Stuart Hazeldine and editor Mark Talbot-Butler
The audio commentary is a strong one that covers a lot of technical issues about the filming and editing. This is a great commentary for early film-makers to give them some interesting insights into the production and the real work behind the scenes. For the rest of us it's also interesting, it doesn't go too far into the technical of film-making to exclude the fan.
Interviews: Director, Director of Photography, Producer, and Cast
There are interviews from a number of the key cast members, although unfortunately not them all. We also get to hear from the two men who made the film look and play out the way it did, the director of photography and the director himself. These aren't earth shattering interviews but they do deliver some interesting information. I would have liked to have heard more from everyone involved to match the audio commentary in terms of depth, but this is still better than the average set of interviews.
Behind the Scenes Footage
I enjoyed the behind the scenes footage for Exam because unlike other footage this seems to be somewhat raw and uncensored, revealing something more about the behind the scenes work than other footage you so often see. It captures some key moments of the film-making process and involves the director directing the actors and the crew. We don't often see this kind of thing and it's refreshing and insightful. More is required though.
I hardly ever mention extras like trailers and photo galleries, but the one here has some nice shots, again behind the scenes that seem to be just that and not staged publicity photos. As with the behind the scenes footage there is a need for more of this.