Starring: Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Billy Crudup
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Running Time: 122 mins
The Stanford Prison Experiment is an American film about the true story of a psychological experiemnt conducted at Stanford University in 1971, with a group of young college students selected to play randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a simulated jail for two weeks.
This is an absolutely enthralling film. Both historically fascinating and psychologically distressing, it’s a striking reminder of how human nature can get so wildly out of control when left unchecked, complete with strong performances, intense directing, and an impressively unrelenting atmosphere when it comes to the darkest of the dark, making for a powerful and endlessly engrossing watch.
There’s a lot that makes this a riveting watch, but above all, it’s the way in which it portrays the terrifying depths to which normal people can go when either corrupted or blindly driven. Whether it’s the guards abusing their power to a horrifying extent, the depression and psychological suffering that the prisoners feel, or the fact that the doctor running the experiment becomes so blindly driven by his curiosity in the experiment, all make for a riveting, and incredibly unnerving viewing experience.
That’s because the film is directed in such a way that it keeps pushing the boundary of just how dark things can go. Just hearing about the events that happened at the Stanford Prison Experiment is enough to send shivers down your spine, but seeing it through such a frank and often bleak portrayal is even more horrifying.
This isn’t a horror movie, and there’s nothing explicitly nasty about the film, but it’s the psychological torment that it portrays that has the deepest effect, sucking you into this simulated world to the point where you’ll begin really feeling for the suffering prisoners, and really hating the guards that torment them so, a level of emotional power that really impressed me.
Of course, the film’s deeply affecting story and drama aren’t only down to strong and intense directing, but a collection of very impressive performances. Although some of the supporting players – mainly rather unexperienced younger actors – aren’t all that stunning, the leads are fantastic, with Michael Angarano and Billy Crudup in particular standing out as fascinating enigmas, each bringing their character’s deep, dark elements to the fore in disturbing fashion.
What’s more is that the main actors who portray the prisoners and the guards work brilliantly together to reinforce that idea of two separate identities doing battle against one another. While the prisoners look down-trodden and depressed, that contrasts strongly with the puffed-out chest and overly macho actions of the guards, and when the two sides clash on screen, it’s absolutely stunning to watch, providing some of the most intense scenes of the whole film.
Although I can’t say that The Stanford Prison Experiment is a flawless film – it has a few disappointingly basic production flaws, as well as a tendency to linger too long on certain less-than-stunning sequences – it delivers its story in stunning and disturbing fashion, with excellent performances and strikingly dark and unrelenting directing to boot, making for an endlessly riveting and consistently unsettling watch that I won’t be forgetting in a long while, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.1 overall.