Original review featured on The Doha Film Institute website.
A group of 26 men take part in a psychological experiment for a period of two weeks, that will earn them $1000 a day. Set in a mock prison, the group is divided between guards and inmates. The Guards are supposed to apply five main rules, and if any of them gets broken, the experiment is terminated and no one gets paid. Monitored by cameras everywhere, the experiment reveals worrying behavioural problems from the first day with some taking their role a bit too seriously. The research transforms into a living nightmare.
Travis (Adrian Brody) – a Zen who wouldn’t hurt a fly – has just met Bay (Maggie Grace) who seems to be the potential love of his life. Bay has already planned to go on a journey of spiritual enlightenment in India, but Travis can’t afford it. Faced with this sudden need for cash, Travis finds a newspaper advertisement for the experiment, and applies in hopes of financing a getaway with the girl of his dreams.
In this real life simulation, Travis is picked amongst the prisoners. His pacifist nature is slowly dissimulated, as he becomes the prisoners’ rebel and the guards’ favourite torturing element. Yes the guards have incarnated their blue suits, revealing sick and sadistic conducts.
The film is a remake of the 2001 ‘Das Experiment, 2001’, and what makes it even more interesting, is the very fact that it’s based on real life events. In 1971, a psychologist by the name of Zimbardo has decided to implement a similar strategy on university students for what’s known as the Stanford Prison Experiment in order to “study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard” that turned into an unethical, mentally damaging, sadistic character revealers. This, when all members picked for the study are – supposedly – emotionally ‘stable’. Have a look at some of the real ‘Stanford’ footage.
This is not the type of mature developments that you’d expect in a complex psychological thriller. The one-dimensional analysis brings out too early the alter-character of the prisoners and guards, without logical warm ups. But from outside this seemingly real prison, what do we know about the psychologist running this experiment – his reactions while watching these people almost kill each other – and how many are behind it? Little is said about the people behind cameras, which is a crucial point in accessing the obsession that drags the psychologist stalker as much as the players.
But this is without a doubt an eye-opener journey questioning the reality behind prison guards, morality and justice. It reveals the many ways human beings can adopt in shifting rules to their benefit while abusing power when getting the chance to. Power and prison are not made for everyone it seems.
Adrian Brody is good at the rebel but the most remarkable is Forest Whitaker playing the very religious and spiritual man who turns into a psychotic and sadistic guard. (He makes you want to kill him. Are we part of the experiment then?) I only wish the characters got the chance to develop more for a rare experience in human nature.
However, the film leaves you totally hooked on to the exciting yet disturbing action. Make sure to watch it soon, because it’s on for only another week. Then make sure to share with us which type of guard or prisoner you think you’d be!