The Stanford Prison Experiment Screen 5 articles

The Stanford Prison Experiment


The Stanford Prison Experiment Poster
  • [Alvarez] commits to a fully immersive procedural approach that potently conveys the study’s lengthy duration and claustrophobic intensity, making for a viewing experience that is by turns gripping, tedious and deliberately discomfiting. But for all its bludgeoning effectiveness, the film also manages to be at once heavy-handed in some respects and annoyingly vague in others.

  • While the experiment itself left much to rake over, Alvarez’s film has less going for it. There’s something inherently counterproductive about the idea of fictionalising something like this, the process itself serving to both dilute the results and to impose another layer of artifice to the already delicate framework.

  • It’s an immersive, if not entirely factual, restaging of six days that were already, on several levels, theater. The fact that the film—which stumbles over its expository passages but makes fine use of its stellar ensemble cast—takes place within a single week and almost completely within one building both narrows its perspective and accounts for its tense, visceral power.

  • Alvarez captures this collapse of basic orientation with a frightening sense of confidence. One of the great difficulties of mounting drama is portraying a rapid devolution of sanity, as one can often sense the narrative obligations carrying the characters along toward their prescribed fates. Alvarez achieves something that's reminiscent of Lord of the Flies: His formalism fashions effective textural shortcuts to behavioral understanding that his remarkable cast fills in with chilling finesse.

  • They’re playing characters quickly becoming subsumed into a system, losing the things that make them who they are. But as actors – as faces and presences that have to keep us engaged for two hours – they must seize on enough to retain and express their individuality. Otherwise, we’re just watching sadism run amok. The cast is up to the challenge: They eke out some humanity from this most inhuman of stories.

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