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Premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2009 and then shown at the Raindance Film Festival in the same year, Exam (dir. Stuart Hazeldine) has been through a tough process in getting shown in cinemas, with a small budget and mixed reviews. It has finally been released for a limited time in the UK and I went along to a special screening that was followed by a Q and A with some of the key people involved, gaining more of an idea of the filmís struggles. For a directing debut film itís not bad, but itís also not great either.
With the debut director also behind the screenplay, the story is an interesting idea and its subject matter happened to come out at the right time for the problems related to the recession.
The story begins with eight, finely dressed people who enter a room, looking quite bruised and scared, with eight tables and eight chairs in it. When they have all seated, they notice that they each have a piece of paper and a pencil. Then, Invigilator (Colin Salmon) walks into the room and gives them a set of rules to figure out the puzzle related to the pieces of paper and has only given eighty minutes to solve it. With the clock ticking down, they all must work together in order to figure out the answer and are forced to trust one another in the process in order to get the prize, which is a high-level career for one person.
With a premise that sounds interesting enough, it unfortunately falls quite flat since the film isnít as intense or thrilling as it couldíve been, feeling a bit lengthy with the lack of obstacles. Thereís also mentions of something medical related in the story that I wonít mention so that when you do view youíll have your own reaction, but itís mentioned around only four times in the second half and Iím still thinking hours after watching it why itís even there since it doesnít really have to be.
The production on the film was done very well for a budget of £350,000 and one of the producers involved also makes this film more interesting for people who are into independent filmmaking.
Even though the film only had one main set throughout itís time length, the people behind it have done a great job in making it look very expensive and flashy and managing to give the actors and actresses enough space to move around in. They managed to transfer the effects that was in the pages of the screenplay and made it work really well, with the effects of the water from the sprinkler system in the ceiling and the light bulbs being breakable and safe for the actors and actresses. The high quality film equipment they used was also well done, with the people assigned to each filming equipment getting the most out of them.
As for the person whoís behind one of the producers behind the film, his name is Chris Jones and this is his second feature film production. Chris Jones produced the independent film Urban Ghost Story (dir. Genevieve Jolliffe) and it managed to win Best Film award at the 1999 Fantafestival. With experience behind short films as well, including Gone Fishing (dir. Chris Jones), his effort into Exam has been great since heís managed to get the film into selected cinemas, which is good for a ten-year absence.
Compared with the other debut directors and writers whoís films I have reviewed so far, this is a better attempt than those. But it isnít the best film Iíve seen thatís been acclaimed by film critics either.
Stuart Hazeldine, whoís also the screenwriter, did the direction and his view is quite interesting and very different in comparison to what I was expecting. Before the special screening, the people behind it gave everyone who was attending a copy of the screenplay and after reading it, I thought that it was going to be very dark, bleak and use the different lights in the set piece to give the film more variety. However, his direction had brighter lighting than I thought and the way he framed the violent scenes didnít appear very scary, leaving me feeling quite bored with the lack of creative shot choices.
As for his attempt at a feature length screenplay, itís not bad and it did keep me reading until the last page. Even though the idea and concept was strong enough to make me read throughout it, the character development and the lack of original dialogue does put it down. The eight characters seemed like they were going to be interesting in the first half and Hazeldine didnít take them any further and he even changed some of their characteristics a bit in the second half. For example, the character Brown (Jimi Mistry) revealed himself that he used to be a soldier three quarters into the story, while Black (Chukwudi Iwuji) touches the Christian cross symbol on his necklace and yet it feels as though it has no reason to be there.
After attending to this exclusive screening and listening at what the filmmakers had to say, my opinion is in-between what the reviewers from the newspapers are saying and what reviewers from the magazines are saying and that is itís a strong enough idea and premise to balance out Examís negative elements, even if thereís quite a bit of bad points.