Sunday, July 18, 2010

On-Demand: Stuart Hazeldine's nifty little genre-jumping jolter, EXAM

If ever a film existed that was made for TrustMovies' mandate of not giving away plot points, it's EXAM -- the new political/economic/
sociological/medical, sci-fi/thriller/mystery movie from relative newcomer Stuart Hazeldine (shown below) that was nominated this year for both a BAFTA and BIFA.

If the rather widescreen poster above makes the movie appear violent and in-your-face, well, yeah -- there is a little of that on view. Yet the alternate poster, below, with its subtle, intellectural edge may err in the opposite direction. Goodness me: How do you market a movie this unusual?  Maybe you send it, as IFC has done, straight to its Festival Direct On-Demand, where, I suspect, immediate word-of-mouth will bring a batch of very satisfied viewers to its fold.

I would swear that Mr. Hazeldine must have seen Marcelo Piñeyro's wonderful Spanish movie from 2005, The Method because, initially, Exam look very much like The Method meets Ten Little Indians (eight, in this case, as was true of The Method, too). The eight, once again, are applicants for a very high-level management position who have reached the final plateau before only one of them is picked for the job.  In the movie's first minute or two, we see each of the candidates in quick close-up, as they dress for this final exam and then enter the room, below, in which it takes place.
We never leave that room.

Single-set movies are very hard to pull off, but Mr. Hazeldine's, which runs 100 minutes, does it surprisingly well, visually and verbally, making good use of every one of those minutes, ratcheting up the suspense in consistent increments, while constantly subverting our expectations until he takes us to a place, coming out, that we would never have imagined going in.   And what he does with his ending is so much better than anything else I've seen in this genre (genres, really), that I cannot recommend the movie highly enough.

Hazeldine has both written and directed Exam (from a story by Simon Garrity), so it's his baby all the way. He introduces facts about the world outside, as well as the candidates inside, in bits and pieces. As we learn these, our understanding grows, even as our assumptions are toppled. That one-room set seems to expand until, inside it, we're experiencing an entire city, maybe the world.

The filmmaker has cast his movie very well, too, with a nice variety of colors and types, some of whose faces you'll undoubtedly recognize -- Colin Salmon (remember Prime Suspect 2 and Band of Gold?) shown, left;

Jimi Mistry (from East Is East, The Guru, Ella Enchanted and RocknRollaat right, and Luke Mably (The Prince and Me and currently on TV in The Gates), shown two photos up, with gun.

The rest of the cast are newcomers to me but prove just as good: Pollyanna McIntosh (above), 

John Lloyd Fillingham (above, right), Natalie Cox (below), Adar Beck (center right, above),  and Chukwudi Iwuji (shown behind the chair, at bottom). Each registers with remarkable strength and personality, making this "Exam" a ensemble piece of exceptionally choice acting.

I hope I have not given too much away while still rousing your curiosity enough to try an On-Demand trip, where the film will remain for the next several months.

Eventually, I imagine, we'll find it on DVD, particularly if, as I suspect, the film garners the kind of large audience it so thoroughly deserves.

Exam begin its On-Demand run July 23.  You can learn how to get it here.

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