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Film: Exam

White: "It's not about the answer - it's about the question."

Exam is a 2008 Psychological Thriller about eight job applicants vying for an amazing (but vague) position in a mysterious but powerful company. They are put into a room, and a speech is recited to them:

The eight of them are left in the room with a security guard, while a clock runs down for eighty minutes. But not all is what it seems, and things get messy quickly.


This film contains examples of:

  • As You Know: Some of the Invigilator's opening monologue comes off like this
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Ultimately subverted; as White is going into a coma, Brown tries to prevent him from getting his medicine. His plan doesn't work.
  • Beard of Evil: White has a significant amount of stubble when compared to Black. Brown also has a full grown beard, although he's less villainous than White.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted; all injuries sustained have an effect, and the time spent in the room has an appropriate effect on all of the women.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Averted; White tells Blonde that helping him was a mistake.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: White and Blonde, although it's one-sided.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Among the applicants, there is at least one willing to do anything - no matter how terrible - to get the job. The other applicants are at different points heroic and (depending on what is being threatened and who is on the receiving end) willing to just stand by and watch.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Seemingly averted, then avoided.
  • Book Ends: The movie officially begins (post-credits) with a close up on feet. It ends with a close up on hands
  • Bottle Episode: aside from a few seconds at the beginning focused on each character, the entire film takes place in a single room (and attached hallway).
  • Breaking Speech: When White recovers from his coma, he delivered one to the others about how damaging their arrogance and selfishness are.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: While it's never an outright COMEDY, it's hard to deny that the film was a lot more light-hearted before Brunette accidentally disqualified herself. After that point, the film takes a darker turn into sadism, torture and attempted murder, although there are moments of humor here and there.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Pretty much everything in the movie comes in play later on, even a pencil!
  • Chekhov's Gun: Deaf's glasses, the voice-activated lights, the gun, the pencils, Blonde's hair pin, White's pills, Brown's coin, the test papers themselves; it'd be easier to list things that DIDN'T qualify.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Deaf and The Guard.
  • Closed Circle: The room itself, in a way. There's nothing stopping them from leaving, other than the knowledge that doing so will disqualify them.
  • Cooperation Gambit: All eight candidates are vying for the same job, but they agree to work together fully knowing only one can advance. Some are more genuine in their cooperation than others.
  • Crapsack World: The film is set in an alternate-history United Kingdom where a disease known only as "The Virus" forces most of the population to take pills every few hours or die.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Most of the attempts to figure out the question are subverted; the plans are crazy... they just don't work.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Blonde isn't a moron, she just doesn't do much. She turns out to be incredibly clever.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Inverted with Black's "death." Lampshaded by Deaf
  • Cruel Twist Ending: For White; he disqualifies himself by addressing the Invigilator before time runs out- because Deaf messed with the clock to speed up time when no one was paying attention.
  • Darkest Hour: When White has the gun and the security guard.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the cast, but White and Brown stand out particularly.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first-billed characters, Deaf and Chinese Girl, have the least amount of lines out of all the contestants; Deaf IS revealed later to be a Chekhov's Gunman,.
  • Driving Question: "WHAT IS THE QUESTION?!"
    • And to a lesser extent: "What is the job?"
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Black. After serving as the film's main hero, he's shot, seemingly killed, and presumably does not get a job of any kind, despite not actually being disqualified.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything??: Black clutching his cross after he rises from the dead. Blatantly spelled out by Deaf
  • Establishing Character Moment: Every character gets one in the opening credits.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Invigilator, the security guard and the CEO
  • Evil Brit: While most characters are British, it's noticeable that White has the thickest accent.
  • Evil Laugh: Downplayed with White's chuckle
  • Evil Plan: White wants to use the others as much as he can until he finds a good opportunity to start disqualifying them.
  • Exact Words: A major plot point. The characters are Genre Savvy enough to recognize this.
    White: It's not about what he said. It's about what he didn't say."
    • Ultimately, only Blonde figures out the true exact words. The Invigilator says that there is a question before them and asks only one question: "Are there any questions?". All you have to do to pass is turn in your unspoiled form and answer "No."
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Aside from the opening scene, the movie takes place over the course of under two hours.
  • Eye Scream: "Or the threat of it."
  • The Faceless: Subverted with the CEO.
  • Faux Affably Evil: White
  • Fake Nationality: Possibly; Gemma Chan was born in London, and it's hinted that Chinese Girl is, well, Chinese
  • Foil: Fittingly, White is a foil to Black.
  • Foreshadowing: The question asked was "Any questions?" The correct answer: No. When the characters first start talking, one of the first questions one asks is "Anyone figure out the answer yet?" The first response given? "No."
  • "A job you'd kill for?"
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Occasionally, although to call them "friends" would be a bit generous...
  • For the Evulz: Some of White's actions, such as forcing Deaf to EAT his own paper.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sanguine- Black and Brunette; Choleric- White; Melancholic- Brunette, Brown and Deaf; Phlegmatic- Blonde;
  • Genre Savvy: Most of the cast; see Exact Words.
  • The Ghost: Black's wife and Brunette's partner. Subverted with the CEO
  • Good Is Not Nice: Although Black is one of the more heroic characters, he has no problem lashing out at those who go too far.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Averted; there's nothing really attractive about Dark's scars.
  • Graceful Loser: Averted; the closest we get is Black or Brown.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Not so much rain, but a sprinkler system. Still...
  • Gut Punch: "And then there were six."
  • Halfway Plot Switch: A mild example, but the main focus of the first half of the film focuses on the candidates trying to unveil hidden writing on their paper. Then White makes Brunette burn her own paper, and the rest of the film documents the candidates slowly going insane and turning on each other.
  • The Heavy: White is not the main/head villain but he is the one driving the plot.
  • Hero Antagonist: Going by the general definition of the word, White is arguably The Protagonist, making mostly everyone else fall into this category.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Subverted. Blonde assumes Black is dead after being shot in the upper chest, but he is very much alive.
  • I Lied: White says this when everyone calls him out on his back-stabbing.
  • Insult Backfire: Dark diagnoses White as a narcissist, who takes it as a compliment.
  • Interim Villain: Brown acts far more antagonistic while White is in his coma
  • Ironic Nickname: White calls Brown Gandhi near the opening of the film. This is ironic, as Brown has military experience, and is the second-most violent member of the group.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Double Subverted with the guard's gun; It's fully loaded, but only recognizes the guard's fingerprint. That said, the "bullets" are actually pills that heal the wounded.
  • It's All About Me: Most of the cast shows signs of this at some point, but White is the biggest offender.
  • I Work Alone: White, after the twist is revealed.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Brown tortures Dark with a piece of paper.
  • Jerk Ass: White is arrogant, abrasive, and shamelessly manipulative.
  • Just in Time: White's disqualification
  • Karma Houdini: Despite their actions, it's suggested in the Invigilator's opening speech that neither White nor Brown will receive any punishment.
  • Kick the Dog: White's process of nicknaming people - while 7/8 are simply one-word descriptors of a character's features (chiefly their hair or skin colour), they're delivered in a somewhat obnoxious and offensive manner; calling an Indian man "Brown" probably crosses the line into being racially offensive. Mocking the Chinese girl for being disqualified didn't exactly endear him to audiences either.
  • Large Ham: The Invigilator during the first scene.
  • The Load: How White sees everyone else.
  • Loophole Abuse: Invoked; it's more like an open invitation for creativity.
  • MacGuffin: The question is all that stands between the cast and applying for this job. Their quest for it drives the plot.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • White sees everyone as pawns to be manipulated for his own use.
    • Deaf was manipulating everyone in the room the entire time but for a benevolent purpose instead of a selfish one.
  • Manly Tears: White after being unwittingly disqualified.
  • Meaningful Echo: Anytime someone is disqualified, they replay the Invigilator stating the rule that was just broken; the only exception is Brown's disqualification
  • Megacorp: Bi-Org, or so it's heavily implied - largely because they manufacture treatment for a worldwide pandemic.
  • Men Use Violence, Women Use Communication: Most of the male characters are far more violent than the females.
  • Minimalism: 99% of the movie takes place in one room.
  • Minimalist Cast: see those guys in the very first scene? They will be the only characters in the entire movie. Many of them won't even be there in the end.
  • Mistaken for Spies: Both Dark and White are accused of being plants.
  • The Mole:
    • Deaf, who was actually the CEO of the company.
    • Red Herring Mole: Dark, who actually did work for the company, but was legitimately applying for the position, and was not planted there intentionally.
  • Mood Whiplash: Several times, but especially going from the light comedy of the characters setting off the sprinklers to the drama of Brunette and Deaf's disqualification.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe. While no one likes White anyway, they all see him manipulating Brunette into disqualifying herself as this. Afterward, they don't even want to work for him.
  • Mr. Exposition: The Invigilator and Dark both serve this purpose at some point; rules and hints and such.
  • My God, What Have I Done??: White after being disqualified.
  • Nameless Narrative / Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • The job applicants insist on not giving each other their actual names. "White" gives them all nicknames instead: such as "Black", "Brown", "Blonde", "Brunette", etc. The representative of the company only calls himself "the Invigilator".
    • The guard and the first applicant to be disqualified are never named: they are credited as "The Guard" and "Chinese Girl" respectively.
  • Near Villain Victory: White almost won but he was Out-Gambitted at the last second Because Blonde changed the clock without him knowing.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: White accuses Blonde of this.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer made the movie seem far more action-packed than the final product.
  • Nice Hat: The security guard has one.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: White shooting Black ends up curing him of the disease they both carry.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Dark gets disqualified when she appeals for an intervention because one of the applicants is dying.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. When the characters test to see if water will reveal the question, White tests his piece by peeing on it; much to the other character's disgust.
  • Noodle Incident: The steps required to get to the exam process are never explained.
  • No Name Given: The whole cast because no one wanted to be named.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Black has a few during the latter half, such as being willing to let White die.
  • The Plague: the characters talk about a global pandemic of some sort; people who are infected must take some (very expensive) medication every hour, on the hour, or they will fall unconscious, go into convulsions, fall into a coma, and die. Properly medicated, however, they function normally, and don't seem to be highly contagious.
  • Plot Driving Secret: "What is the question?"
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: White
  • Punch Clock Villain: Not a villain, but the Security Guard is a Punch Clock Antagonist of Punch Clock Neutral.
  • Real Time: More or less; a story that spans 2 hours takes about that much time to watch.
  • Red Herring: Everything: the pencils, the lights, the lighter, the sprinkler system, and the gun are all distractions. The test is solved by handing in the unmarred paper and voicing the answer aloud.
  • Red Herring Mole: Dark
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dark's diagnosis of White. It doesn't work.
  • The Reveal: Several:
    • Dark works for the company, but is not a mole.
    • Deaf is the CEO of the company.
    • "The question" is the only question that they were asked: "Any questions?"
      • The proper response is: "No."
    • The gun is acutally a Healing Shiv.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Brown used to be a soldier, and has apparently retained a penchant for torture from his army days.
  • Soft Glass: No one is ever cut or hurt by the shards of glass around the room.
  • Spanner in the Works: White, who sets the entire film in motion.
  • The Stoic: The Security Guard never shows emotion.
  • Take a Third Option: White gives Blonde the option to leave the room or be shot. She does neither.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Discussed by several characters, who point out that arguing merely eats up their eighty minutes.
  • Third Act Stupidity: Justified. Although White conveniently forgets that he synced his watch up to the clock, it's understandable, considering the events of the film.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: ALMOST everyone to an extent, although Dark seems to have the biggest difficulties with letting White die.
  • Token Romance: Averted - there's four male and four female candidates, all of them relatively attractive, but there's absolutely no element of romance to the film.
  • Torture Technician: Brown must have picked this up in the army.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer spoils Brunette's ruined paper, as well as footage from the final scene.
  • Trash Talk: Between White and Black; Brunette refers to it as a pissing contest.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: Subtly done, but the mysterious global plague and its treatment particularly the healing bullet strongly hint at wandering into sci-fi territory. The rest of the technology present is all very much present day stuff.
  • Two Act Structure: The first act deals with the the cast trying to reveal invisible ink on the pages; the second is more about White's treachery and the applicants turning on each other.
  • Understatement: "I lied."
  • Unwitting Pawn: Discussed
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Two cases:
    • You want an amazing, high-paying dream job? Just what are you willing to do to get it? Lie? Cheat? Steal? Kill? For most of them: yes.
    • So, your company has created a drug that can heal/cure anything and make people practically immortal, making the world an infinitely better place and saving billions of lives and you need to find someone who is right for the responsibility of distributing it, since you can never hope to make enough? That's fine - just put confused, desperate people into an isolated room, give them weapons, and watch them tear each other to shreds! Justified in that the winning candidate was the only one who stayed calm, didn't resort to drastic methods, and remained thoughtful and methodical throughout, even when there were lives on the line - which was exactly the kind of person the CEO was after.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: No one dies, but Blonde is less aggressive and active than most of the other girls and she's the only one to figure out the question and thus finish the application, though none of them is really very Vasquez (Brunette is a vamp, Dark is a bookworm, and Chinese is out of the movie before getting a chance to display a personality at all).
  • Viewers Are Morons: See Meaningful Echo
  • Villain Ball: Most of White's plans fall apart when he descends into this; similarly, people stop listening to Brown after the torture scene.
  • The Voiceless: The guard, who never speaks, and only interacts with the applicants to escort them out of the room.
  • What the Hell, Hero??: Dark to the others when they're willing to let White die.


Ex DrummerFilms of 2005 - 2009 Expelled

alternative title(s): Exam
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