The Stanford Prison Experiment


The Stanford Prison Experiment is the third feature from director Kyle Patrick Alvarez. Having received a large amount of buzz coming out of Sundance this year, I was really looking forward to what Alvarez had in store for me next. Taking place in 1971, The Stanford Prison Experiment follows what is considered to be one of the most audacious social experiments of our time. Taking place in the basement of the Stanford psychology building, The Stanford Prison Experiment was when Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup in the film) gathered a team of volunteers to simulate a mock prison. Half of the volunteers took the role of being a prison guard and the other half took the role of being a prisoner. Things quickly get out of control when the guards begin to take their roles too seriously.

I had a bit of prior knowledge of the experiment before seeing the film and I think that is part of the reason why this did nothing for me whatsoever. I learned zilch about the experiment over the needless 122-minute runtime. Alvarez tells everything with as much incite and excitement as a scant synopsis on the events that occurred back in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Nothing is ever done here to spice things up. It is just one needlessly long, unimaginative chore to get through.

Alvarez seems to be infatuated with the many shocking elements of the experiment; he often drags them out for far longer than they needed to go on for. He fails to draw us in during these scenes. While some of the camerawork here is impressive, it just does not juxtapose well with the setting. I think static shots would have been a better choice than the incredibly flashy camerawork here. The countless close-up shots that cinematographer Jas Shelton frequents throughout the course of the film are rarely utilized to capture what a character is feeling. They just seem like they are there to add a variety to what the audience is watching onscreen.

By the second act of The Stanford Prison Experiment, the screenplay was for the most part just a bunch of melodramatic moments. A majority of the cast just could not pull these scenes off, especially Tye Sheridan. Sheridan was fantastic in Entertainment this year, but gave one of the worst performances I have seen all year in the atrocious Dark Places. While his performance doesn’t reach the cringeworthy awfulness as it did in Dark Places, his performance here is nowhere near being good. Sheridan fails on all grounds to capture the emotional distress that his character is going through during this experiment. While this might be informative to some who are not familiar with this case, but as someone who was familiar with this case, I was perpetually restless throughout.

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