Exam (film)

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Exam poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Stuart Hazeldine
Produced by Stuart Hazeldine
Gareth Unwin
Written by Stuart Hazeldine
Simon Garrity
Music by
Cinematography Tim Wooster
Edited by Mark Talbot-Butler
  • Bedlam Productions
  • Hazeldine Films
Distributed by Independent[1]
Release dates
  • June 2009 (2009-06) (EIFF)[2]
  • 8 January 2010 (2010-01-08) (United Kingdom)[3]
Running time
101 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $600,000[4]

Exam is a 2009 British psychological thriller film written by Simon Garrity and Stuart Hazeldine, directed by Hazeldine, and starring Colin Salmon, Chris Carey, Jimi Mistry, Luke Mably, Gemma Chan, Chuk Iwuji, John Lloyd Fillingham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Adar Beck and Nathalie Cox. This film was unofficially remade in Telugu language in India as Key in 2011.[5][6]


The film is set in present-time United Kingdom in an alternate history. Eight candidates dress for what appears to be an employment assessment exam; they enter a room and sit down at individual desks. Each desk contains a question paper with the word "candidate", followed by a number, from one to eight. The Invigilator, a representative of the company named DATAPREV, explains that the exam is 80 minutes and consists of only one question, but there are three rules: they must not talk to the Invigilator or the armed guard at the door, spoil their paper, or leave the room. If they do, they will be disqualified.

As the exam timer starts, it turns out that the papers are blank; one Chinese candidate is immediately disqualified for spoiling her paper. The seven remaining candidates realize they can talk to each other and work together. "White", who is arrogant and rude, suggests nicknames based on physical appearance: Black, White, Brown, Blonde, Brunette, and Dark, refer to their skin and hair colours, and Deaf for one candidate who does not pay attention to the others. The candidates use the lights, bodily fluids, and fire sprinklers to reveal any questions on the paper, with no luck. It is revealed that the company in question is responsible for a miracle drug which a large part of the population are dependent upon after a viral pandemic, including Brunette‍ '​s partner. White takes control of the group and engineers the disqualifications of Brunette and Deaf for spoiled papers.

White taunts the others, saying he knows the question but will not tell them. Black subdues White and ties him to a chair; White says he needs his medication, implying he has the virus, but the others do not believe him. Brown then accuses Dark of being a plant from the company, as she demonstrates much knowledge about the internal workings of the company. After Brown tortures Dark into revealing that she works for the company, White goes into convulsions, showing he has the disease. Dark asks the unseen Invigilator for help and is disqualified.

Blonde retrieves the medication for White, reviving him, and the others release him, demanding to know the question; White suggests that there is no question and that the company is going to hire the last remaining candidate. Black steals the guard's gun, but it requires the guard's fingerprint ID, giving White time to steal it. White forces Brown to leave the room at gunpoint, disqualifying him, but when he forces Blonde to leave, she turns off the voice-activated lights, allowing Black to attack White.

When the lights are turned on, Black dies from a gunshot, and Blonde is hiding in the hallway, with one foot still inside the room. Before White can kill her, the exam timer runs to zero. When White addresses the Invigilator, he is disqualified, as Deaf had earlier set the countdown forward by a few minutes. Blonde then remembers that Deaf had been using glasses and a piece of broken glass with an exam paper earlier but was ignored. Taking the abandoned glasses, she finds the phrase "Question 1." on the exam paper in minuscule writing.

Blonde realises that Question 1 refers to the only question asked of them by the Invigilator: "Any questions?" She answers, "No." The Invigilator and Deaf enter; the Invigilator reveals Deaf is actually the CEO of the company and inventor of the cure for the virus, which can also heal any wound. The bullet that hit Black contained this cure, and he awakens, healed. With the drug about to be released to the public, the company needed to hire someone who was not only able to make tough choices but is also compassionate, which Blonde had demonstrated throughout the exam. Blonde passes the exam and accepts her new job.



After seeing some of his friends' films fail due to studio interference, Stuart Hazeldine decided that he wanted full control over his feature debut.[7] The original story involved an exam at a school, but Stuart Hazeldine changed it to be a job interview. The ending is also Hazeldine's creation, as the original story didn't have one. Hazeldine wanted to separate the characters by race, culture, gender, and, especially, worldview.[8] The film's pandemic was influenced by contemporary fears of bird flu and distrust of pharmaceutical companies. Originally, the script had more science fiction elements, but Hazeldine stripped them out to keep the film grounded. About the twist ending, Hazeldine said he wanted the film to be about more than just the twist, and he tried to appeal to audiences who seek a story about human nature.[7]


The film premiered in June 2009 as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival[2] and was then part of the Raindance Film Festival 2009.[9] It was released in UK cinemas on 8 January 2010.[3]

On 11 February 2010, IFC Films acquired the rights for the US release, where it was released as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.[10] The DVD and Blu-ray were released in the UK on 7 June 2010.[11] There was no theatrical release in the US, but IFC Films released the film via video on demand on 23 July 2010[12] and on DVD on 16 November 2010.[13]

On 4 September 2012, a stage adaptation of the film opened in Manchester.[14]


According to Rotten Tomatoes, 63% of 30 surveyed critics gave it a positive reviews, with an average rating of 5.6 out of 10.[15] Tim Robey of The Telegraph said that the film starts off well but loses its way.[16] Lael Loewenstein of Variety called it "a smartly conceived, tautly executed psychological thriller."[10] Philip French of The Guardian called the film clever and "ingenuously developed" but criticized the ending as disappointing.[17] Also writing in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw gave the film two out of five stars and said the film does not live up to its intriguing premise.[18] Awarding the film four out five stars, Total Film compared the film to Cube and the work of Jean-Paul Sartre.[19] Becky Reed of Screen Geek compared it to 12 Angry Men and El Método (The Method), a 2005 Spanish film.[20]


  • Won the Independent Feature Award at Santa Barbara Film Fest.[10]
  • Won the Bronze Hitchcock at the Dinard British Film Festival[21]
  • Nominated for Best UK Feature at Raindance.[22]
  • Nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut.[11]


  1. ^ "Exam". British Council. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  2. ^ a b Macnab, Geoffrey (2009-11-06). "Exam gets UK deal with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  3. ^ a b Barton, Steve (2009-12-04). "Official Quad One-Sheet: Exam". Dread Central. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  4. ^ "Exclusive: Stuart Hazeldine Talks Exam, Paradise Lost, and Tripods". Dread Central. 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  5. ^ http://www.rediff.com/movies/report/south-review-key/20110718.htm
  6. ^ http://movies.fullhyderabad.com/key/telugu/key-movie-reviews-4380-2.html?sort=negative
  7. ^ a b Chaplinsky, Joshua (2010-11-16). "Stuart Hazeldine: British Filmmaker, Hollywood Screenwriter". Twitch Film. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  8. ^ Bartlett, Becky (2010-01-05). "Stuart Hazeldine's Exam: No Bathroom Breaks Allowed". The Skinny. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  9. ^ Walters, Ben (2009-09-02). "Raindance Film Festival Hopes to Take London by Storm". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  10. ^ a b c Loewenstein, Lael (2010-02-16). "Review: "Exam"". Variety. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  11. ^ a b Moore, Debi (2010-05-18). "UK DVD and Blu-Ray Specs for Stuart Hazeldine's Exam". Dread Central. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  12. ^ Miska, Brad (2010-07-14). "U.S. Trailer for IFC Films' 'Exam'". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  13. ^ Barton, Steve (2010-07-14). "Official One-Sheet and Trailer – IFC's Exam". Dread Central. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  14. ^ Hepworth, Craig. "EXAM - New Stage Adaptation of Cult Psychological Brit Thriller". Broadway World. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  15. ^ "Exam". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  16. ^ Robey, Tim (2010-01-07). "Exam, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  17. ^ French, Philip (2010-01-09). "Exam". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  18. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (2010-01-07). "Exam". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  19. ^ "Exam Review". Total Film. 2009-12-21. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  20. ^ Reed, Becky (2010-01-05). "Exam". Screen Geek. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  21. ^ Gain, Bruce (2010-10-11). "'Dagenham,' 'Treacle' share Dinard's Top Prize". Variety. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  22. ^ "The 17th Raindance Film Festival Reveals Award Nominations". Screen Daily. 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 

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