Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Sometimes borderline brilliant.
See, not all of those random Netflix movies that you have never heard of are all bad. They can surprise you, which is exactly why I do this. Hype isn’t everything, boy and girls, true greatness is measured by giving a film a chance it wouldn’t normally get. Exam isn’t oh my goodness amazing, but it is done pretty darn well in general. However, there are certainly some flaws that I couldn’t ignore – like forgettable characters, but a lot of what actually happens in the film I liked. When it comes down to lesser-known Netflix psychological thrillers, Exam is definitely decent enough to check out if you have the time.
So, the plot to this film is rather simple. Eight diverse contestants enter a room where they are instructed to take an exam. The rules are simple – there is one question, and one answer is required. If they leave the room, try to talk to the guard, or spoil their papers, they are immediately disqualified. The rest is pretty much vague as to everything else. The papers in front of them are completely blank, and when someone tries to write on it, they are disqualified – because they spoiled their paper. The hunt for the question is on, as they continue to test their paper different ways, until it begins to dawn on them that maybe it’s not as black and white as the instructor told them it would be. They had 80 minutes for 80 years of their life.
Okay, so first off, I want to say awesome story. The mystery is really compelling, and the different ways and ideas presented in the film were always fresh and intriguing, but the film offers very little in regards to why they are there, really. All you know is that they are all applicants for one job, and only one will get the job, but what the job is for and what kind of company it is – isn’t spoken about for a while. They do get into it, and even though it’s really important, it initially just feels really political. Of course, that’s not the whole story, and there are some cool twists and turns yet to fall into, but you do feel a little empty while watching. What does keep you watching is definitely the premise, which ultimately never stops.
The characters are utterly forgettable, save for maybe one or two guys. Even then, it’s meh. Just like any of the Saw movies about a number of characters playing a strange riddle-of-a-game, the characters themselves are often forgettable because the primary focus is on the riddle, the game. The same applies here, and I do really like the riddle, and the opportunities and clues to solve the riddle keep on coming, so repetitious problems aren’t even remotely present, and I like that. I would have just liked a more meaningful heart to the story – the main why as to why they are there in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly is entertaining while you watch, but after it’s done, you’re also done.
There are also other things in the film that I think are plot holes, like how you spoil the paper. At one point, they get the fire sprinklers to go off, and get all of their papers wet…yet none are disqualified. Even one guy peed on his…well, maybe it wasn’t his, but still. Sure, maybe part of the game was to get them to that point, but that didn’t solve anything, and I think at least someone should have been disqualified at that point. Other parts are a bit predictable, but honestly, a lot of it I didn’t see coming. I really enjoyed this flick, and I particularly liked the writing, pacing and direction.
What it comes right down to though, is that the tone and premise of Exam, while really intriguing, fits more closely with a short film…not feature. Because of this, I believe some viewers may find the feel of this thriller a little strange in general, and too long. I won’t say they are wrong about the short film bit, because that is ultimately true, but I don’t think it felt long or strange in any way. I just had a lot of fun watching it.