Movie Review - Stanford Prison

Movie Review - The Stanford Prison Experiment

Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's 2015 film, The Stanford Prison Experiment, is one of the most profoundly disturbing films I have ever seen in my life. Based on a 1971 psychological experiment of the same name that explored the tumultuous relationship between prisoners and prison guards, writer Tim Talbott pens an unflinching look at the dangers that come with the abuse of power. And even though the experiment is a simulation, the result is a harsh and depraved look at the reality of human nature. This is immersive film making at its' absolute finest: it places the viewer right in the middle of a situation quickly spiraling out of control, but without any way to intervene, leaving us feeling helpless and trapped. This movie is not for the faint of heart. It will shake the very foundation of your person. Still available on VOD for a limited time, The Stanford Prison Experiment is an absolute must-see.

In 1971, a psychology professor at Stanford University named Phillip Zombardo conducted an experiment on a group of student volunteers. Over twenty students were selected to participate, and were divided into two separate groups, one group would play the roles of the prisoners and the other the prison guards. The experiment was meant to last 14 days and the participants were each paid $15 dollars a day. It was meant to test the hypothesis that the personality traits of prisoners and guards are the chief cause of abusive behavior between them. For the purpose of the exercise the basement of the psychology department was transformed into a makeshift prison, and there were cameras set up everywhere for Doctor Zombardo and his assistants to observe every minute. But in a testament to the depravity of the human condition, the abuse started almost immediately, and quickly intensified without anyone interceding.

The success of the film is built on the strong ensemble performance, and every single actor involved plays an integral role in the emotional trauma that we suffer as audience members. And though every actor is worthy of being mentioned, but with nearly thirty people on the cast list I will focus on a few actors whose characters stood out from the rest. As prisoners, Chris Sheffield, Tye Sheridan, and Ezra Miller force us into their perspective, causing us to suffer the same mental and physical degradation as the prisoners. It is both haunting and traumatic. Billy Crudup is wonderful as Doctor Zombardo, who not only loses sight of his original intention, but loses control of his experiment all together. But nothing can top the performance of Michael Angarano as the prison guard who takes his role a little too seriously. His presence is domineering and looms large over every frame of the movie, and the level of joy that his position of power brings him borders on the sociopathic. He is utterly terrifying. 

Every frame of this film is sheer perfection. Kyle Patrick Alvarez sets an unrelenting pace that is completely exhausting. The viewer leaves the film shell-shocked and desolate after being broken down like the rest of the prisoners. It is a visceral experience that is a testament to the impact that film making can have on an audience. The result is a movie that will stay with you long after the credits roll. I really can't say enough good things about The Stanford Prison Experiment. It is an important film, one that every human being should see. Still available on VOD for a limited time, I highly suggest you check it out. Cheers. 

Grade: A+

- Leo Francis