Exam: A Ruthless Path to Success

Since the smash hit of Saw in 2004, thriller and horror films have incorporated games and tests into their stories to build suspense shrouded in mystery. One such film, coming out of the United Kingdom and distributed by IFC Midnight, is Exam (2009). While it may not be directly classified as horror, Exam is a psychological roller coaster ride with impressive character development, ongoing suspense and a steadily escalating plot.

Winning one national film festival award and one international film festival award, Exam was recognized for an attention gripping script and translation onto the big screen. Written and directed by Stuart Hazeldine, this film was well executed with very few complaints. In addition to the well-deserved awards, Exam received two nominations including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award.


Eight candidates in competition for the ultimate job within one of the world’s most powerful and secretive companies enter a plane windowless room. Taking a seat at separate individual desks, each prospective employee finds a blank piece of paper with the word “Candidate” followed by a number. To begin the final stage of selection, an individual enters the room to give a specific set of rules and a cryptic set of instructions. Played by Colin Salmon (Alien vs. Predator, Resident Evil), the man simply known as “The Invigilator,” explains to the candidates that they will be disqualified from the job if they violate any of the following rules: candidates are forbidden to spoil their paper, leave the room, or attempt to communicate with the cameras or the armed guard stationed inside the room by the door.


Setting a timer, The Invigilator explains to the group that they have 80 minutes to determine one answer to one question. As he exits the room, the eight candidates are left unsure as to what is expected of them. After a moment of silent confusion, one candidate turns over her paper to the blank side and begins writing an essay explaining why she believes she is qualified for the job position. When the camera zooms in on her actions, the security guard immediately escorts her out of the room for spoiling her paper. It becomes clear that this is no ordinary interview process.


After a brief analysis of the rules, the candidates realize that they are able to talk and move around the room. As these individuals assign nicknames to one another to avoid making things personal and complicating things further with real names, characters slowly begin to reveal their personalities. The strongest personality, who is clearly the antagonist, is nicknamed “White.” Portrayed by Luke Mably (28 Days Later), White becomes the most vocal out of the eight characters. Though he unites the group to work as a team in discovering the question they must answer, it does not take long before White shows himself to be a ruthless, manipulative, winner-takes-all individual.

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that White may not be the only one with a self-serving agenda. With outstanding performances by Adar Beck, Nathalie Cox (Jumper, Clash of the Titans), Chukwudi Iwuji, Pollyanna McIntosh, and Jimi Mistry (Blood Diamond, RocknRolla), various corporate personality types gradually surface throughout the film. When personalities begin to clash, tension begins to rise as the cutthroat corporate world surfaces through the character development and interaction. Beginning with the use of manipulation, suspense builds as events escalate into questionable interrogation tactics and the possibility of murder to win the coveted position within the company.


Aside from the character development, the story is cleverly pieced together giving you just the right amount of information to captivate your attention. As the plot unfolds, information is revealed, which sparks new questions. To guide the audience through this fog of mystery, reoccurring flashbacks to The Invigilator’s introduction are interwoven into scenes as the characters manipulate their environment and each other in search of the one question they must answer.

Final Thoughts

Exam is a cleverly written thrill ride that explores human nature when competing for the opportunity of a lifetime. Though it may not go into film history as a classic, this film does an outstanding job depicting how far some people will go to come out on top. The plot and character development escalate simultaneously while guiding the audience through a puzzle that is gradually pieced together. All answers to this puzzle are unveiled when the one question that lies before the candidates is revealed.


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  1. Very well wrote. To the point, detailed filled and very knowledgeable about movie facts and characters /actors,actresses. Made me want to check this film out. Nice work.

    • Great feedback, Scott. I’m glad the work I’m doing is being clearly communicated and meeting my overall goals.