Watching: Exam (2009)

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Works that have an “elimination” premise have always intrigued me since reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. One by one, a character is eliminated until, at last, only one remains. Stuart Hazeldine’s independent film, Exam, depicts this type of story in a new light – within the gripping jaws of a job examination, something I’m sure many of us already find terrifying. Although the film starts as an entertaining story with an exciting premise, it does – eventually – lose its potential.

Slightly reminiscent of the works of Vincenzo Natali (Cube) and Luis Piedrahita (Fermat’s Room), Exam is a unique and interesting film that comments on human nature and the different ways people pursue their desires. Having said that though, it eventually boils down into a mix of different character archetypes, creating an average narrative at best.

The story begins with 8 people preparing themselves for what is soon revealed to be a job exam. Entering the exam room, the applicants are met by the Invigilator, who explains to them the three rules to avoid disqualification. The candidates quickly find that this is no normal exam, as the paper given is blank, and they are forced to find the all important question before finding the answer.

I really had high hopes for the film with its premise. The eight characters – a mix of different backgrounds and personalities – initially seemed to work well with each other in the sense that it gave the film purpose. But they, along with the point of the story, became highly ludicrous and downright cringe worthy. After the variety of antics characters pull to better their chances, the audience soon realises the futility of their actions and the incongruity of the whole selection process. I mean, as I watched the story unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder why the company even considered such an outlandish way to hire a person. And to make matters worse, the applicants quickly become desensitised to morality in the face of a job examination. Although it is suggested that an ongoing pandemic is the source of their strong desire for the job, the whole narrative seems pushed in an effort to intrigue viewers.

To sum up, Hazeldine’s brilliant concept is fumbled into a mediocre creation that manages to entice the audience with the original point of the film – the question. While not a lot of the film can be praised for, it’s without a doubt that the “why” and “what” aspect of the film garners enough interest to warrant a view. If you’re looking for a way to pass the time, or even just a film to play in the background, try the Exam – an easy to digest thriller all within the cozy confines of a single room.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Give it a go… In your spare time.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English 

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Watching: How I Live Now (2013)

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How often is a good premise destroyed in the world of film? Lately, it seems, all too often. Piling on the mountain of teen romance films, Kevin MacDonald’s How I Live Now is a somewhat mediocre attempt in creating a romance amidst the chaos of a World War. In essence, while a variety of film aspects are generally quite good, it seems that the overall film is weighed down by a poor plot line and story telling.

To be honest, the Netflix description really intrigued me – with the unique combination of the war and a girl-meets-boy- movie tropes, I was expecting a balanced story that wouldn’t severely hinge on either for a long period of time. Unfortunately, I was flat out disappointed, and worst of all… proven wrong.

The film opens with Daisy, a compulsive American arriving in England seemingly completely oblivious to the impending threat of a World War III. She later arrives at her cousins’ house and although she is hesitant at first, befriends her family and learns to be more at ease with herself and others. This happiness is short lived though, as she is soon separated from her cousins and is forced to cope with the harsh realities of war, the responsibilities as a carer and the deep desire to reach the one she loves.

I’ve never seen the director’s previous work, nor have I read the novel the film is based of, but it seemed as though he went through a checklist of things to shoot in the film. A love scene? Check. A sex scene? Check. A confrontation scene? Check. Stock character death? Check. And even then, there are some plot details that audience members like me were left wanting more of. It can be said that the general plot is horribly watered down, sanitised and wholly unrealistic, most likely to appeal to the filmmaker’s “stereotypical”  young female audience. Luckily though, Saoirse Ronan’s (The Lovely Bones) performance, as well as the performance of her fellow cast members, give the film some good points, providing a welcome sense of relief to MacDonald’s train wreck. Other kudos come from the few scenic shots, as well as the focus on Daisy’s development from a neurotic teen to a more rounded character by the end of the film.

In short, the film definitely has more downs than up, and while that is a legitimate reason to ignore this attempt at a romance-during-war story, the acting and casting of the movie just lifts it enough to be palatable. If anything, watch this film to see the brilliant work the actors put on… or don’t, to save yourself the pain in watching a film that will leave a longing, bad taste in your mouth.

Bry Rating: 2/5
Recommended? Don’t bother.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English