EIFF 2015: The Stanford Prison Experiment

Film Review by Josh Slater-Williams | 18 Jun 2015
Film title: The Stanford Prison Experiment
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Starring: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Nelsan Ellis, Olivia Thirlby, Johnny Simmons, Gaius Charles, James Wolk, Nicholas Braun, James Frecheville, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, Keir Gilchrist, Jack Kilmer, Chris Sheffield, Moises Arias, Callan McAuliffe, Brett Davern, Matt Bennett, Benedict Samuel, Miles Heizer, Logan Miller, Jesse Carere, Harrison Thomas

The results of Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s famous and controversial 1971 psychological study, in which various Stanford University-attending males play-acted as prisoners and guards for an intended two week study that was shut down after less than one, are so well known that one may wonder the worth of a dramatic restaging of the original incident.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s aptly titled The Stanford Prison Experiment justifies its existence and potential redundancy in its detailed focus on the intricacies behind the chaos, both in the simulated prison and behind the scenes, examining how Zimbardo (Crudup, with head and facial hair that makes him look like a blaxploitation villain) was disturbingly drawn into the make-believe himself.

The result is a nerve-shredding two hours even with awareness of how it’s all destined to go down, with great turns from indie Hollywood’s brightest young male stars as the increasingly abusive ‘guards’ and internally traumatised ‘prisoners’. A shame, then, about a tone deaf coda that condescendingly explains the themes, and closing text that contradicts Crudup’s portrayal of Zimbardo.

The Stanford Prison Experiment has its international premiere at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival:

18 Jun, 6pm, Cineworld 8

21 June, 8.30pm, Cineworld 3