Director – Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast – Moritz Bleibtreu, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski Wotan Wilke Möhring, Justus von Dohnányi, Stephan Szasz, Timo Dierkes, Antoine Monot Jr., Lars Gärtner, Edgar Selge, Andrea Sawatzki, Philipp Hochmair
Release Year – 2001
Reviewed by John of the Dead
If you enjoy psychology and sociology then YES you are right, this film is based on the highly controversial 1971 Stanford University experiment run by professor Philip Zimbardo which was aborted less than halfway through its scheduled time span due to drastic results. I have had my eye on this German film for quite some time, and now that there is a US remake/re-imaging of this film I figured it was time to get to it with this one. After viewing this film I can see why it has achieved high ratings on other websites, and while this is not a devout horror film it is as horrific if not more horrific than most horror films put out these days, resulting in a darn good and unforgettable watch.
Taxi-driver/freelance journalist Tarek Fahd(Moritz Bleibtreu) accepts an opportunity to be part of a private group study that will pay him handsomely for it. He and 19 other men are selected to participate in a makeshift prison surrounded by surveillance equipment in which 12 of the men will be “prisoners” and the other 8 will be “guards”. The prisoners are given mild rules to follow, and the guards are instructed to maintain order without using violence. At first the mood and atmosphere is fun and emphatic, but within just a few days the mood turns sour when tensions arise, and the guards seek more drastic options to establish their authority at the behest of those running the experiment.
While the story is not an original one I still found immense joy in the idea of pitting common-folk against one another in a “controlled” setting and watching human nature take its course and turn them against one another. Sides are picked, tempers flare, and those with authority abuse it not for their own benefit, but for their own mental satisfaction. The film’s three writers did a fantastic job turning the Standord Prison Experiment into a workable film story, and despite the film’s near two-hour runtime I never found myself unengaged or bored. The pacing is fantastic, and each development comes at just the right time, raising the intensity at proper increments. Of the 24 main characters written into the film at least ten of them provide positively to the film, with the others taking on more minor roles that thankfully did not come up as filler roles per say but just less-important ones. The conflict is high, and it obviously comes mostly in character form, including some infuriating scenes that will stay ingrained with you for quite some time. This is by no means a “torture porn” film, but more of a study into how dark the human mind/soul really is, and I love it.
Director Oliver Hirschbeigel(Downfall, The Invasion) delivers this film in fantastic form, with great sets that threw us into the world these human subjects were thrown into, and he delivers a strong full-frontal experience of the horrors they were subjected to. This is the biggest reason behind why this film will stick with you for a while. The story is good, but the direction is what makes it happen, and Hirschbeigel holds nothing back. His execution of both the prisoners and the guards was fantastic, and he gets really creative in how he delivered the horrific events, including a sequence involving the “Black Box” that will leave you scared out of your mind if you put yourself in Tarek’s situation. Hirschbeigel’s great execution also aids the pacing of the film, and when he is not invigorating the viewer he is at least keeping the viewer engaged, which is a director’s biggest task.
Overall, Das Experiment is one of the “shockers” I have seen in a long while. This unique story being based on true events(that are actually TRUE) creates a horrific atmosphere that is expertly delivered thanks to superb direction, resulting in a film that will stay with you for a long while, which I believe to always be a good thing. If you are looking for a memorable horror experience or just something different than your usual run-of-the-mill horror film then Das Experiment comes highly recommended.