dir-scr Stuart Hazeldine
prd Stuart Hazeldine, Gareth Unwin
with Colin Salmon, Luke Mably, Nathalie Cox, Jimi Mistry, Adar Beck, Chuk Iwuji, Pollyanna McIntosh, John Lloyd Fillingham, Gemma Chan, Chris Carey
release UK Dec.09
09/UK 1h36
Turning nasty: Mistry, Iwuji, Cox and Mably

salmon mably mistry
edinburgh film fest
raindance film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Exam Setting a thriller in one room is a risky decision, and while writer-director Hazeldine creates a gripping sense of claustrophobia, this film feels both contrived and padded out with unnecessary sequences.

Eight people are called into an examination room by the Invigilator (Salmon) and given simple instructions to get through the last phase of a job interview. But when the 80-minute clock starts ticking, they realise there's no question on their exam sheet. Trying to work out what to do involves collaborating and competing, and eventually turning on each other. And everyone seems to know something they're not telling the others.

From the moment they're alone in the room, these people adopt identities based on their appearance: White (Mably), Blonde (Cox), Brown (Mistry), Dark (Beck), Black (Iwuji), Brunette (McIntosh), Chinese (Chan) and, since he won't reply to anyone, Deaf (Fillingham). These names are a clever nod to the way people judge strangers immediately, and this theme continues throughout the film, examining how different personalities interact and deal with old prejudices and moral questions.

So it's a bit frustrating that the script never delves beneath this surface, constantly diving into random set pieces based on someone's idea about how to solve the conundrum or a clash between two of them. We learn things about the world outside the room (there's a fatal virus killing young people, and most in the room have experience with it) and the company that's hiring them (a monolithic pharmaceutical corporation). But the characters never go beyond the stereotypes.

And this shows in the performances, which centre on superficial, physical expression. At least they're extremely well-done, and they give the limited setting more motion and interest. But without ever deepening the themes or really getting into the issues that are raised, Hazeldine has made a film that feels a bit dull and uninvolving. Especially if you're paying attention and figure out some of the story's tricks along the way.

That said, this is a terrific twist on a Lord of the Flies-style breakdown of society, as some characters dissolve into ruthless thugs while others do things that are cruel or stupid or perhaps too compassionate, if that's possible. But without any real depth, the whole thing feels somewhat pointless.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Sep.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall