Review – The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

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the-stanford-prison-experiment-5672625c03321Welcome to Mind Control Month | Brainwashing/Deception Week – Day 4. Next up, we have a famous true story case that has been done a few times in other films and TV show episodes before, but The Stanford Prison Experiment is the only one of the bunch that actually is based on the real event – and as far as I could tell, they were mostly true to what happened – and it’s really interesting, quite frankly. Let’s start with the plot.

Ultimately, this film is about a number of Stanford University students who are selected to take part in an experiment where half of them play prisoners while the others played guards. For the most part, it was a social experiment thought up by a group of psychology professors, but it turns out to be much, much more, as the guards begin to feel invincible in their power-hungry roles and the prisoners become so sucked into it…they forget it’s even an experiment at all. They are told they have done horrible things so many times they begin to believe it.

Indeed, this is truly a remarkable case…but is it really that hard to believe? Perhaps. Our minds are incredibly wired in such a way to believe we’re never wrong, we’re always innocent, and we’ll never die. Whenever something gets in the way of that, it messes with a big part of how our brains naturally operate – and things happened with every student here – prisoner and guard alike…just in separate ways. When you give power to anyone, they will either abuse it or be tempted to abuse it, and they go above and beyond abuse of power in this film. As for the prisoners, they really began to lose their sense of identity in this film in a real and shocking way. It gets us mad as an audience, which makes it a really, really good movie in general.

This is all just first impressions, though. Let’s go ahead and break down The Stanford Prison Experiment to interpret the stars.

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PEOPLE SCORE – 9/10
Acting – 2|Characters – 2|Casting – 2|Importance – 1|Chemistry – 2

Well, as far as true stories go, I’d at least hope that the stories in question would have interesting people involved, and in the case of this film, it doesn’t disappoint. No one was really distinct or diverse until they started the experiment, which is really when these people were able to shine. There’s a lot of absolutely astonishing acting going on in this film for sure, as people’s minds begin to break down. The characters are actually memorable, especially the guards, but even quite a few of the prisoners as well. Weirdly enough, I don’t know most of the actors here, but they all did such a good job that it’s hard for me to say anyone else could’ve done it, and they all had amazing chemistry with one another. The only problem it probably had was in the “importance” category. As distinct and diverse as the cast and characters were, they were broken down into three groups – prisoners, guards, and professors – I wish they all had independent reasons to be there and have more character development, but it just didn’t.

WRITING SCORE – 10/10
Dialogue – 2|Balance – 2|Story – 2|Originality – 2|Interesting – 2

Next up, we look at the writing category, which easily received perfect marks. The dialogue was realistic and psychological. When those prisoners really start to lose it, their cries for help and to let them out register pretty deep, and subsequently when the prisoners harass the prisoners…it’s all pretty insane, especially when you know this all happened. The balance of the film was perfect; it keeps its eyes on the prize and never lets go. The story is a real social experiment gone wrong, a famous one at that anyone would love to hear, and as a bonus, tells a meaningful story at the same time. Originality-wise? Oh yeah. Even though I’ve seen the story done before in comedic TV episodes and in the film, The Experiment, this is clearly the start of it. Is it interesting, though? Oh, totally.

BTS SCORE – 6/10
Visuals – 1|Directing – 1|Editing – 1|Advertisement – 2|Music – 1

Behind-the-scenes, on the other hand, wasn’t as impressive. The score this got was not any better than your typical, run-of-the-mill comedy…which this isn’t. They have more of an obligation to focus on how the film looks and feels. Instead, they focus more on concept than execution…which is fine, just not perfect. The visuals are fine, but nothing impresses me. Both the directing and editing had no instances that seemed to be challenging. It was as-advertised, which is great, but that’s really it. Even the music was typical and forgettable.

NARRATIVE ARC SCORE – 9/10
Introduction – 2|Inciting Incident – 2|Obstacles – 2|Climax – 2|Falling Action – 1

It’s back to a nearly perfect score for the narrative arc category. The very end of the film does that typical true story ending thing that doesn’t really count as the new norm, but it’s fine enough to get some points. Everything else is perfect, though. The introduction gets us ready for the film. We get to see who these people are before they turn into their new identities. The inciting incident is when the social experiment began and they literally couldn’t go back at that point. The obstacles are littered through this film when it came to prisoners vs. abusive guards. The climax is a culmination of everything else combined.

ENTERTAINMENT SCORE – 7/10
Rewatchability – 2|Fun – 2|Impulse/Buy – 1|Impulse/Talk – 0|Sucks you in – 2

Now, how entertaining was The Stanford Prison Experiment? Very. While it has its own problems here and there, it’s hard not to consider how good it actually is. I consider this film pretty rewatchable in general – especially because I’ve always had a thing for psychological films like this, and this does a number on you psychologically. In the same light, I had a lot of fun watching it and it absolutely sucked me in without fault. I also would love to own it as a gift, but I’m not going to buy it. Finally, I wouldn’t really talk to others about it – it’s not that kind of film.

SPECIALTY SCORE – 40/50
Mind Control – 5|Brainwashing – 10|Drama – 5|Thriller – 10|Halfway Decent – 10

Alright, now we head to the five questions that I asked about the film before seeing it. Mind Control-wise, it definitely gets to them, but it’s not the kind of mind control where the victim is actually being controlled. Brainwashing, though, yes. Maybe it’s unintentional, but it certainly happens. Now, the film is listed in part as a drama, so I had to ask how the drama was…but there really isn’t a lot of it. While it’s “dramatic”, it’s more dramatic in a crazy way, which is why the thriller aspect got full points while drama only got half. Finally, was the movie halfway decent? It was more than halfway decent, it was fully decent.

TOTAL – 81/100

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