This exasperating film, winner of Sundance’s screenplay and Alfred P. Sloan prizes, tells the real-life story of Dr. Zimbardo’s 1971 simulated prison study involving 18 male undergrads, randomly assigned the role of prisoner or guard, who are stripped of their humanity (among other things) by each other—and by their sadistic, psychologist puppeteer.
The cast boasts many a dreamy indie “it” boy, including Ezra Miller (in a ferocious but all too brief turn), Keir Gilchrist, Jack Kilmer, Michael Angarano, James Wolk, Tye Sheridan and fresh-faced Sundance breakout Logan Miller. Billy Crudup astutely leads the ensemble as Philip Zimbardo, whose ill-conceived faux prison breaks them down and throws them into degrading, uncomfortable and sometimes erotic scenarios. Olivia Thirlby co-stars as Zimbardo’s skeptical fiancee.
The film is a grueling experience but it works thanks to licks of black humor and Ezra Miller’s monstrous screen presence. Written by Tim Talbott and directed by third-time filmmaker Alvarez (“C.O.G.,” “Easier with Practice”), “The Stanford Prison Experiment” was produced by Abandon Features, Sandbar Pictures’ Lizzie Friedman and Greg Little, Coup d’État Films’ Brent Emery, Lauren Bratman, and executive producer Brian Geraghty. Abandon Features, Sandbar Pictures and Vineyard Point Productions financed.