Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

If you've ever felt like a lab rat lost among the labyrinthine streets and imposing architectural structures of any major city, as a resident or visitor, then Marek Polgar's striking feature debut, Exit, will automatically strike a chord.

Written by another newcomer, Martyn Pedler, Exit is part science fiction and part psychological drama, with psycho-geography playing a key role in its oblique, existential narrative. Exit is liable to frustrate those looking for popcorn thrills as it's a decidedly arthouse experience, more akin tonally and visually to Shane Carruth's Primer than it is to the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix, a film with which it shares the superficial thematic concern of worlds within worlds.

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Alice (Kylie Trounson) is one of a number of alienated, obsessed figures in an unnamed city who believe their environment to be a maze with one hidden exit. Whether the exit leads to another physical world, a new dimension or an enlightened, meta-physical plane remains tantalisingly unexplained throughout this impressively written, performed and shot slow burner.

Spending their days opening doors in the hope that their maps, symbols and measurements have led them to the fabled exit, the disparate collection of believers exist apart from mainstream society, as invisible to it as the exit is to them. A scale model of the city built inside an apartment provides a neat juxtaposition between fantasy and reality. Within the scale model Simon (Michael Finney) and Grace (Hannah Moore), two believers struggling to cope with their search, are giants, yet when they leave the closeted surroundings of their apartment they are once again consumed and overwhelmed by the city around them.

Shot in a bleached out fashion largely around The Hoddle Grid in Melbourne's Central Business District, Exit is opressive, cryptic and wholly engaging from start to finish. Polgar's shooting style is assured and complementary to the film and its characters' sense of claustrophobia. The skyscrapers and office blocks that dominate the external environment are often shot from obtuse angles that heighten the sense of overwhelmed, dislocated isolation felt by Alice and the other maze believers. The ultra-modern facades of the corporate buildings stand in sharp visual contrast to the side streets, back-alleys, underpasses and industrial edifices seen at other times, though neither side of the city offers little emotional comfort to Alice or the others.

Having sharply focused close ups on faces with the backgrounds slightly blurred or totally out of focus further strengthens the detached aura of the film itself and reflects the muddied mental environments of the troubled protagonists. A moody, repetitive aural motif compounds Exit's deeply ingrained sense of mystery as the film meanders its way to an ambiguous (anti)climax.

A coda sequence plays out that will either captivate or annoy viewers, offering as it does yet more questions and no answers as to the film's central premise. The visual distancing devices are counterbalanced by the breaking of the fourth wall at regular intervals, as many of the leading characters turn and address the camera with their thoughts. It's a brave move by Polgar and one that pays off. This act of intimacy between character and viewer draws you in, however much the rest of the film keeps you at arm's length. It's a way into the world they are trying to escape from, one that's required given the drab, brutalist environment and esoteric conversations on display as a whole.

Exit has the feel of an urban riff on Stalker, with the long sought after exit door promising much the same as the room at the heart of The Zone in Tarkovsky's peerless science fiction classic. Charlie Kaufman, Jean-Luc Godard and the Davids Cronenberg and Lynch come to mind as well, though Polgar and Pedler are no mere imitators as Exit is possessed of its own clear style.

What exactly is it that Alice and the other searchers are hoping to escape from and have answered? Polgar and Pedler eschew conventional exposition in this area - it could be modern life, mental illness, addiction, family ties, emotional baggage or spiritual emptiness – leaving the viewer to take and make what they will of this bold, distinctive movie.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2012
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Believing her city to be a maze, one woman tells her fellow searchers that she has found the exit.

Director: Marek Polgar

Writer: Martyn Pedler

Starring: Kylie Trounson, Michael Finney, David Kemp, Hannah Moore

Year: 2012

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Australia


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