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On DVD: "EXAM" is "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" for Grown-Ups

By Christopher Campbell | Spout November 16, 2010 at 6:24AM

My number one DVD (and Netflix Instant) recommendation this week is for the restored "Metropolis" (aka "The Complete Metropolis"), which I'm assuming will be more enjoyable at home than in a theater full of laughing newbies, as was the unfortunate case with my experience of it earlier this year. I will get to more on that obvious choice later, though, as I'd like to first spotlight a lesser known new title called "EXAM," a British psychological thriller which was put out on VOD platforms over the summer but which I think will find a greater audience on DVD. It has definitely got cult potential, at least on the level of superficially similar enigmatic indies like "Cube," even if it's not quite as cerebral. It's not as complex a puzzle for the audience as it may seem, but I promise you won't be able to stop watching once you start. As long as you can disregard some instances of really bad acting.
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My number one DVD (and Netflix Instant) recommendation this week is for the restored "Metropolis" (aka "The Complete Metropolis"), which I'm assuming will be more enjoyable at home than in a theater full of laughing newbies, as was the unfortunate case with my experience of it earlier this year. I will get to more on that obvious choice later, though, as I'd like to first spotlight a lesser known new title called "EXAM," a British psychological thriller which was put out on VOD platforms over the summer but which I think will find a greater audience on DVD. It has definitely got cult potential, at least on the level of superficially similar enigmatic indies like "Cube," even if it's not quite as cerebral. It's not as complex a puzzle for the audience as it may seem, but I promise you won't be able to stop watching once you start. As long as you can disregard some instances of really bad acting.

Written and directed by Stuart Hazeldine, from a story by Simon Garrity, "EXAM" can be described easily in comparative terms. I think many people likened it "The Breakfast Club" due to its setup of placing a number of character types -- not stereotypes, though; even more general: a black guy, a white guy, a brown guy, a blond woman, a brunette woman, etc., nicknamed for these base attributes -- into a room with the task of answering a question. But take John Hughes' premise and mix it with a little Agatha Christie and you'll have a better idea. In a way it's like an adult "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" without all the visual (or in the case of the book, imaginative) pleasures. The contest here is for the grown-up equivalent of what the chance to win a candy factory is to children. It's for a job position that is apparently rewarding on multiple levels. One that candidates might want to actually kill for.

I can see some people feeling less than rewarded at the end of "EXAM," though I obviously won't say why. It's a film that's abstract in the simplest of ways. The characters shouldn't be accepted as real people and the story, which partly involves the pharmaceutical industry as a macguffin-esque backdrop that's akin to and for the most part as ignorable as the one in the "Resident Evil" films, is of little concern. This is how it differs from "The Breakfast Club," a movie interested in a dialogue of ideas rather than realistic people, yet its characters are a whole lot more fleshed out than the ones here. Part of that has to do with Hughes having better actors to work with than the stiff bunch in "EXAM." But aside from one particular actress (Adar Beck, as "Dark"), who seems always irritatingly uncomfortable saying her lines, I actually found the robotic-like acting to be quite fitting. It's like watching an experiment or computer simulation conducted with different forms of artificial intelligence trying to work together and then eliminate each other. That's likely not Hazeldine's intention, but it's what I was able to take from it. And as far as I'm concerned, it works better for how the film ends. It's a hard film to discuss without spoiling things, though, so just go watch it and you will hopefully get what I mean.


Here's a trailer for "EXAM," which makes it seem more like a "Saw" movie than it really is:

Now back to "Metropolis" and my slight favor for watching at home: The print I saw -- I think how it toured theatrically all over -- was formatted in a way, with restored frames isolated as such, that made it more of an historical product than a straight entertainment. Still amazing to see on the big screen but I doubt entirely accessible to viewers coming to it out of curiosity solely for its canonical significance and its influence on popular films like "Blade Runner" and "Star Wars" (my dad emailed me the other day after watching it on TCM to ask if there's ever been acknowledgment of its inspiration for C-3PO's design). Newcomers are welcome and encouraged, of course, as there's no use in you starting with the more confusing shorter cut as many of us had to, but be aware that now with the footage more integrated into the cut it may not appear to be of the most consistent quality. Given the circumstances, it's certainly forgivable. And anyway the thing looks damn good overall -- not just print-wise, but as always its effects and art direction are still some of the most spectacular ever put on film.

Here's the trailer for the restoration:

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