Experiment, The (Das Experiment) (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner25/03/2002

Five out of five stars
Running time: 118 mins

A terrific, nail-biting white-knuckle ride of a psychological thriller, made all the more compelling and horrifying because of its basis in reality – this is easily one of the best films of the year.

The Experiment is a fictionalised version of the infamous real-life 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which a group of volunteers were divided into ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards’ and agreed to live in a mock-up jail for a period of time.

In real-life, the experiment was cancelled after just a few days because the results were much more shocking than anyone had bargained for and the film paints a pretty accurate portrait of just how that situation might have come about. The result is a terrific, nail-biting psychological thriller and one of the best films you’ll see all year. Be warned, however, as it’s not for the squeamish.

The film is set in modern-day Germany. The main character is Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu, who was Lola’s boyfriend in Run, Lola, Run) – a disillusioned former journalist working as a taxi driver. However, when he spots the advertisement detailing the experiment, he persuades his ex-editor that there may be a good story in it and signs up, intending to cause as much trouble as possible, so as to spice up his story.

Unfortunately, things quickly get out of hand as the guards get a little too carried away…

The Experiment is the debut feature of director Oliver Hirshbiegel and on the strength of this he is most certainly a talent to watch. He wrings the maximum amount of tension and suspense from his set-up and gets note-perfect performances from his actors, all of whom transcend their necessarily slightly pigeonholed roles (the weakling, the hard case etc).

Bleibtreu is the standout though – he gives an incredibly assured, charismatic performance that should hopefully ensure that he becomes much better known outside his native country.

The screenplay, by Don Bohlinger, Christoph Darnstädt and Mario Giordano (who wrote the novel Black Box on which the film is also loosely based) also deserves some credit here, particularly for the terrific final act, which sustains an impressive pace and never lets up.

Also notable is the way in which the events of the film gradually involve even seemingly minor characters (there are continued flashbacks to Fahd’s girlfriend –Maren Eggert-, a woman he has just met), as well as continually confounding the audience’s expectations at every turn.

To a degree, the film has a fair amount in common with Series 7: The Contenders (one of the best films of last year), because both films have something to say about human nature and today’s society – after all, it isn’t hard to see Big Brother as a publicly televised, albeit sanitised version of The Experiment.

Indeed, one of the most horrifying aspects of The Experiment (as in the real-life experiment) is that it all goes so wrong so soon and yet remains utterly convincing.

In short then, this is a terrific film and, if there’s any justice, it should achieve the same break-out success as Run, Lola, Run, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Amores Perros. If, however, it doesn’t appear at a cinema near you anytime soon, then seek it out, as it is unquestionably one of the most powerful films you’ll see all year. Unmissable.

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Experiment, The (Das Experiment) (18)
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Content updated: 21/10/2017 11:22

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