The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Exam is available on demand via IFC Midnight. Contact your cable/satellite provider for details.

Imagine a Saw movie where the traps are intellectual rather than physical and where the people trying to survive them are contestants from “The Apprentice.” You now have Exam, a pleasingly quirky thriller available on demand via IFC Midnight.

Ignore the pretentious credit proclaiming this “a Stuart Hazeldine View” and just enjoy the ingenuity of the premise. Eight applicants show up to the final round of a job interview at a mysterious corporation. They're placed in a room with eight desks, a piece of paper and a pencil at each one, and an armed guard at the door. A proctor informs them of a few simple rules, tells them they have exactly 80 minutes to finish the test, then walks out of the room. When the applicants flip over their papers, they discover that nothing is written on them. With the clock counting down, they have to decipher what is being required.

These being Type A individuals, everyone wants to assume control, some more than others. A guy who dubs himself “White” (Luke Mably) seems intent on bullying everyone into finding an answer, especially as he believes they are all being watched. The group comes to realize that they are in the middle of some form of stress test, which in turn causes their competitive edges to rise. Some of them break rules and are forcibly removed; others reveal a willingness to do whatever it takes to be the last one standing in the room, if that's even what is being called for. When we learn more about what the company is and what it does, it becomes clear that getting the job could literally be a matter of life and death for some of them.

Exam is a mystery wrapped inside an examination of group psychology. It works because the characters follow logic. It's fun to watch them piece things together, and for the most part, they do what you or I would do. When the proctor first gives his speech, it seems straightforward; later, we discover that his basic instructions are more valuable than they initially seemed. For instance, he tells them not to ruin their papers. The first person is kicked out of the room within minutes for trying to write an essay on why he/she should get the job. A rational assumption. However, also one that apparently violates the rules. The other seven applicants have to adjust using this little nugget of knowledge. That kind of thing happens again and again in the movie. It's fascinating to observe all these different personality types being forced to work together, each of them revealing hidden strengths or weaknesses as the clock runs down.

Of course, the plot is a little out-there, and Exam dips its toe ever so lightly into the realm of sci-fi to justify it. The film also engages in a certain amount of manipulation to keep its premise going for 90 minutes. In spite of this, Hazeldine gives his story a taut pace that keeps us guessing the whole time. Exam doesn't feel like any other thriller I've seen recently. It's that very uniqueness that makes it worth seeking out.

( out of four)

Exam is unrated but contains adult language and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.