Exam (2009) starts with an interesting premise, boasts sharp direction and is often tense, but the meandering script and an unsatisfying conclusion left me disappointed.
Eight ambitious young people are led into a small sterile room to sit an exam with the offer of a lucrative job. An impassive invigilator explains the rules; they are not allowed to communicate with the armed guard standing by the door, spoil their papers, or step outside the room before the 80 minutes are over. When the clock starts, the candidates turn the papers over only to find they are blank. This begins a process of character interplay, which starts at grudging cooperation but gradually descends into violence and paranoia as the candidates attempt to discover what the question actually is.
The pleasure in watching puzzle-driven thrillers is in unwrapping the who, where and why, by connecting small nuggets of information as they are gradually released. However, a significant portion of the movie has little to with the final payoff, and seems entirely like padding. The movie meanders, with the characters moving from one pointless task to another.
In the absence of a truly clever puzzle-driven script, a movie relies on the protagonists and their interplay. None of the characters are particularly well-drawn, and several fall into convenient stereotypes – the Gambler, the Wide-Boy Narcissist, The Scientist with Logical Explanations, and The Hard-Headed Career Woman. We do learn more about the characters and their motives for being present at the exam, but again this has little to do with the final payoff.
It's hard not to be disappointed by the finale either. It involves some sophistry that would be more at home as a playground trick question, and the final reveal was hard to accept as a motivation for finding the right employee through the preceding selection process.