Review: The Stanford Prison Experiment


By Christian DiMartino

I’ll come clean: I did terrible in Psychology. I just could not process all of that crap. When I did tune in, however, I was intrigued, and so when I heard that a movie about “The Stanford Prison Experiment” was in the making, I knew I had to see it.

So now, The Stanford Prison Experiment as arrived, and it is just as disturbing as one would hope or expect. It is not necessarily a fun movie, but rather, it is a fascinating, intriguing, thought provoking, and perfectly acted, if not redundant one. It is never less than gripping.

The film takes place in 1971. Dr. Philip Zimbardo (the severely underrated Billy Crudup) sets up an experiment at Stanford University, in which 24 students (some played by fairly well known young actors such as Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Keir Gilchrist, Thomas Mann, Tye Sheridan, and Johnny Simmons) will be thrown into a mock prison. 12 will be playing prisoners, the other 12 playing guards.

The experiment, in case you weren’t aware, was a disaster. The guards began taking their roles too seriously, taunting the prisoners and what not. Even some of Zimbardo’s own rules were broken… but yet, it isn’t even a real prison, which is the unique thing at play here.

Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez creates an atmosphere so claustrophobic, the viewer, like the students, begins to be convinced that this is a prison cell, until you snap back to reality. The events that occur are unbelievably fascinating, to say the least. To believe that seemingly normal students take their roles to such extreme lengths because of power is frightening. This is a film that will irritate you, to the point where you want to throw something at the screen. That’s proof of a strong film; when something truly digs under your skin.

Crudup is excellent here as a man so determined to break ground that he doesn’t even recognize the madness at play. As for the young actors, it is hard to choose a standout. It is surprising to see Angarano, who I mostly remember as “that guy from Sky High,” in such an evil role. He, along with the rest of his co-stars, knock it out of the park.

The film feels a bit redundant after a bit, but that is fine: The Stanford Prison Experiment tells a story so intriguing, it is easy to forgive.

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