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Film / Exam

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White: It's not about the answer - it's about the question.
Brunette: What is the question?

Exam is a 2009 Psychological Thriller starring Colin Salmon, Pollyana McIntosh, and Jimi Mistry 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.


Because of the heavy plot, spoils will be unmarked

This film contains examples of:

  • 20 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.
  • An Aesop: Teamwork and cooperation are better than selfishness and competition.
  • All There in the Script: The Chinese Girl's ethnicity is only revealed in the credits.
  • Ambiguously Brown: It's implied that Brown is of Indian descent, but never outright stated, seeing as White calls him "Gandhi".
  • Anti-Intellectualism: White when discussing how "useless" philosophizers and such are.
  • Apocalypse How: The Virus either caused Type 0 or Type 1, which is never made clear. However, it is mentioned that most of the young population of the world got sick and started dying a lot.
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  • Applied Phlebotinum: The pills taken to suppress the virus.
  • Arc Words: "What is the question?"
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The Examination Room
  • As You Know: Some of the Invigilator's opening monologue comes off like this, explaining things that the participants should know, but the audience doesn't.
  • 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 when Blonde gets the pill anyway.
  • 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 when he has her at gunpoint, not showing any care about her help.
  • Benevolent Boss: The CEO. He is a scientist genuinely interested in bringing good stuff to the world, but has trouble dealing with people.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Blonde proves to be the only one who can truly outsmart White, despite being an overall Nice Girl.
  • 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.
  • Body Double: The CEO has one for public appearances. The marketing department considered him not fit to make public appearances.
  • Book-Ends: The movie officially begins (post-credits) with a close up on feet. It ends with a close up on hands.
  • Bound and Gagged: Black does this to White when he decides he's finally heard enough out of him, tying his hands behind a chair with his own tie and using another tie and White's socks to make sure that he wouldn't be able to speak.
  • Brainless Beauty: White accuses Blonde of being this, of course, at the end he is sorely mistaken.
  • Brainy Brunette: Brunette and Dark are both women with dark hair that are noticeably intelligent during their time at the Exam.
  • Break the Haughty: White gets dragged across the Despair Event Horizon at the end of the film, when his plans are foiled and he is forced to exit the test for breaking the rules. He tries to fire the Guard's gun on his own head and commit suicide, but fails.
  • Break Them by Talking: When White recovers from his coma, he delivers this speech to the others about how damaging their arrogance and selfishness are.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Discussed and averted. The job is real and it seems the CEO really was wondering about hiring more than one person.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Poor Deaf has a terrible stutter, and he only speaks French. They're only able to understand parts of what he says.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Invigilator, technically. He only said that he was going to ask them one question; no one believed him.
  • 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 and wristwatch, Brown's coin and chewing gum, the broken glass, test papers themselves; it'd be easier to list things that DIDN'T qualify.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Deaf, who turns out to be the CEO behind the whole exam.
  • Clock Discrepancy: This proves vital in the climax when White uses the guard's gun to threaten first Brown, then Blonde to leave the room so that he'll win the examination by default. It turns out that Deaf had changed the clock when no one was looking, so when White talks to the Invigilator as soon as he thinks he's won, he just disqualified himself because they were still within the time limit.
  • 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.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Brown engages in this, believing Dark to be the mole. The other characters lampshade how wrong this is.
  • 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. Subverted when White finally shows his true colors and is shown that he tried to use others to figure out the truth and then eliminate them.
  • 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, but they just don't work.
  • Darkest Hour: When White has the gun and the security guard. He holds Brown, Black and Blondie at gunpoint and forces them to get out one by one.
  • Dark Horse Victory: After staying, for the majority of the movie, out of the spotlight and being one of the most sensitive ones, Blondie is the one who wins, figuring out what's the question and having her paper completely fine.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the cast, but White and Brown stand out particularly.
  • Decoy Protagonist: White presents himself as a smart and confident Anti-Hero that seems to be able to bring everyone together as he figures out the Exact Words rules that were laid out and the group starts to work together under his leadership. Soon, however, he reveals himself to be the villain of the movie, being a narcissistic psychopath who is even willing to kill others to get the job he wants. Blondie is the closest thing there's to a protagonist by the end of the movie.
  • Despair Event Horizon: White being disqualified. Upon realizing that he was played by Deaf, he loses it and tries to kill himself with the Guard's gun.
  • Divided We Fall: Discussed thoroughly. Because the characters can't decide whether they're supposed to act as a group to achieve a goal that they can't achieve alone or they're meant to pull the carpet under each other, they keep debating this theme. Black and Blondie are the ones that most advocate this idea.
  • Don't Celebrate Just Yet: This is White's undoing. He looks at the camera after the clock has run out to say that he should win because he was the one moving things while Blondie, the only other one left, did nothing and mostly lurked in the background. However, the clock was messed with and he broke a rule by trying to talk with the ones holding the exam.
  • Driven to Suicide: White after being disqualified tries to fire the Guard's gun on himself. It doesn't work.
  • Driving Question: "WHAT IS THE QUESTION?!". The test requires everyone to answer a single question to get the job, but they can't figure out what the question is.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After spending 80 minutes of a harrowing experience and even being held at gunpoint by a lunatic, Blondie gets to get a great job on an important company, which is revealed to be one helping the world with a production of a new medicine that accelerates cell regeneration.
  • Entitled Bastard: White genuinely believes that he is better than everyone and should be the one to get the job. Dark mentions that this is one of the symptoms of his Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Invigilator, the security guard and the CEO, who are never given names, only their positions.
  • Evil Brit: While most characters are British, it's noticeable that White has the thickest accent and is the primary villain and antagonist of the movie.
  • Exact Words: A major plot point is that every rule that the Invigilator said must be followed to a T, but everything he hasn't explicitly forbidden is allowed.
    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, more or less within the 80 minutes of the test.
  • Eye Scream: Once torturing and questioning Dark, Brown threatens to cut her eye with a paper, which would them work as a blade.
  • The Faceless: Subverted with the CEO. Although he is mostly shown as a shadow and hides himself, he shows up at the end of the movie, revealing himself to be Deaf.
  • Faux Affably Evil: White, who seems quite charming in a way of a Lovable Rogue, but quickly turns out to be a psychopath willing to kill for the job.
  • Foil: Fittingly, White is a foil to Black. The former is a villainous psychopath willing to resort to murder for the job, while the latter is a much more heroic and selfless member of the team.
  • 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?" is a question asked much earlier to White showing that yes, he is willing to kill for the job.
  • For the Evulz: Some of White's actions, such as forcing Deaf to EAT his own paper come from his own unrepressed sadism.
  • 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, specifically White, whom he has punched, tied down and knocked out.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: 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.
  • 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.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: White loses the competition due to his own hubris.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Everyone, for trusting White who is a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Human Shield: An interesting variation with the security guard.
  • 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.
  • Irony: In the ending, White is Driven to Suicide, but is unable to finish himself off due to the fingerprinted trigger preventing him from shooting himself in the head now that the guard is in escort mode. Minutes later, the gun is revealed to be a Healing Shiv that would have cured him of The Plague.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: White is arrogant, abrasive, and shamelessly manipulative.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: White picking apart some of Black's statements during the third act.
  • 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.
  • King Incognito: Deaf was the CEO all along.
  • Large Ham: The Invigilator during the first scene.
  • Literal Genie: The guard, who only removes applicants once they break the Exact Words of the rules.
  • Living Prop: The guard is a very literal example of this, acting mainly as an entity to drag the disqualified out, and even moreso once White realizes his weapon is fingerprinted.
  • 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. The Invigilator's opening lines are also quoted whenever an advance seems to be made based on what he did or did not say.
  • 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 real plant is Deaf.
  • 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 Deaf changed the clock without him knowing.
    • Of course, this isn't considering the fact that he most definitely would not have figured out the question anyway, let alone the answer.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: White accuses Blonde of this. Within minutes she's disproven this by getting the job.
  • 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.
  • One-Word Title: It's about the test that the characters are taking.
  • 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. He remains completely emotionless when removing disqualified candidates from the room, and even moving him around to use him as a hitman earns no response or intervention from him.
  • 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.
  • Rules Lawyer: All the applicants once they catch on to the fact that the guard is a Literal Genie, but especially White.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Black clutching his cross when he rises from the dead. Deaf even points out the inherent symbolism at work.
  • Scary Black Man: The Invigilator is black and disqualifies people; the latter makes him scary.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Brown; although forced at gunpoint, he maintains a very defiant attitude.
  • Secret Test of Character: The criteria of the testing, with the dream job as the reward.
  • Self-Harm: Dark's scars are shown in both her introduction and a scene late into the movie.
  • Serious Business: The whole plot; people go mad and kill each other over a job application.
  • Shaky Cam: Used sparingly.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Delivered by most of the cast to White at one point or another.
  • Skewed Priorities: Dark is appalled by everyone else being willing to let White die for the sake of not disqualifying themselves.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Ends up being more idealist than cynical.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: White; Dark notes that he shows most of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and he's absolutely certain of how ahead of the game he is right up until the guard drags him out.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Dark and Deaf; the former already passed a similar exam and the latter is the boss.
  • 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. This is quite sensible, as the room was clearly planned with the expectation that people would break it.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: The very second piece of dialogue in the entire film is the Chinese Girl's pleading as she's disqualified.
  • Wham Line: After Blonde questions whether the selection process was worth Black's death: "What makes you think he's dead?"
  • What the Hell, Hero??: Dark to the others when they're willing to let White die.


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