Friday, February 25, 2011

Three Similarly Plotted Films - Who Wins?

Okay, so in the last few weeks I have watched three different films that all have a similar, if not unusual plot. They were Fermat's Room, Exam, and Nine Dead. All three deal with a group of strangers placed in a room by a mostly unknown individual (or company) and them having to work together to figure something out and/or survive. All the films take place for the majority in one room and so must rely on characters and dialogue for plot development. So the question is... Which film succeeded at this tactic?

Fermat's Room (2007)
Three mathematicians and one inventor are invited to a party by a man who calls himself Fermat. Their host excuses himself and the group finds out (via a PDA) that they must solve a series of mathematical riddles within a given time limit - as the walls of the room slowly close in on them.

Exam (2009)
A group of eager job-seekers have reached the final stage of one company's competitive interview process. They are placed in a stark, windowless room, given one sheet of paper, and are told that they have one question to answer. The only problem is: their paper is blank. The clashing personalities must work together to figure out the question before their 80-minute time limit is up.

Nine Dead (2009)
The film opens with several different people all getting kidnapped by the same tasering, masked man inter-cut with said masked man preparing a room for his captors. Nine people are each handcuffed to a pole and told that one of them will be killed every ten minutes unless they can figure out why they have all been brought here.

Now I love movies like this. Minimal locations and minimal characters just seem to be more intriguing to me... IF they are done right. Two of the above movies get it right, one doesn't. My favorite was probably Exam, followed very closely by Fermat's Room with Nine Dead just way off in left field, almost not even worthy of being close to the other two.

Exam excels for several reasons. I love the set of the room. Kind of hi-tech looking, bare, windowless, with a single school desk and chair for each person. It is a cold and unfeeling room, obviously representative of the company giving the interview. The characters are not given names, just nicknames given by one of the candidates based on their physical appearance. Some of the characters know more than they are saying about what just what this job with the company is, and there is a backstory of some kind of virus spreading around the country (but not a zombie virus, damn it... that would have been cooler) that affects some of the characters.

But more than the characters and the story, I loved the riddle presented in Exam. They have only one question to answer but there is no question on their paper or anywhere else in the room. The rest of the film is the people using several different methods to try to read the paper. Is it infrared or ultraviolet light? An ink that reacts with chemicals? When the question is finally found, the solution to the riddle can be interpreted two different ways (trust me, I've seen endless discussions on IMDb about which one is right) but either way, it's a good one, and one you might be slapping yourself in the forehead about because of how obvious it was.

"Fermat's Room"
Fermat's Room was also a pretty awesome movie, and it's really neck in neck with Exam. It's also similar to Nine Dead because once the craziness starts with the walls of the room slowly closing in our three characters, making the room smaller and smaller, these people must also figure out why they have been chosen for this deadly game.

I tried figuring out the math riddles the characters are given myself for about ten seconds before I realized they were just zinging over my head. I liked math in school and all... but not THAT much. The real riddle is who their mysterious host Fermat is and what these people have done to deserve this treatment. I liked this movie because there was real suspense with the moving walls and less characters involved - and therefore to keep track of - than in other films like it. They each have their own little secret, of course, and you may not like some of them later on, but with so few chances for survival you need them all to live so the good ones can get out. Highly recommend this one. It's a quick, fun, interesting little thriller with a plot that will keep you watching eagerly until the very end. It's also a Spanish movie, so you can impress your friends with that. Or something.

"Nine Dead"
Nine Dead could have been okay, I like the set up, but the ending and the revealing of the "mystery" of why they are there and why they deserve to die is the most lame and anticlimactic "surprise" ending I've ever seen. Sure it's emotional and all that jazz but the build-up and supposed seriousness of their situation presented in the first half of the movie does not add up to all these people deserving to die for their deeds. One woman's evil treachery that caused her to lose her life was that she identified the wrong man in line-up after her store was robbed. Seriously?

The acting really wasn't all that bad, even by Melissa Joan Hart, but nothing stellar either. There is a fair amount of action to keep you mildly interested to get to the conclusion, because there is an intricate web of riddles to work out how all these people are related. Again though, when the web is detangled it's not as big a deal as you think it's going to be. I say thumbs down. You can skip this one.

So there you go! Would definitely recommend Exam and Fermat's Room, but Nine Dead does not come up to par. Time is obviously an important element in all these films, and you can only go so far with a few characters in one room before it gets boring. Thankfully, all of these are right around the 90 minute mark so you won't waste too much time.

And tell me about any other movies like this! I really dig 'em, I'm tellin' you.


  1. seen Exam last year and totally loved it. Highly interested in Fermat's Room!

    I totally recommend the terrific "The Killing Room" from Jonathan Liebesman which is quite similar to Exam.

  2. I know the guy who made EXAM. He also rewrote the remake of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, though he was uncredited for that.

  3. I loved both Exam and Fermats Room! I saw exam first and was even more impressed by Fermat. I am looking forward to seeing both Nine Dead and the Killing Room :) I'd love to know if there are more similar themed movies out there.