Review: The Experiment
I’ve always been intrigued by people that sign up for drug trials, not being able to imagine doing the same thing myself. Can such trials ever guarantee one’s safety? Paul Scheuring’s The Experiment, a remake of the 2001 German film, and loosely based on a true story explores the consequences of a social experiment that goes terribly wrong.
26 volunteers come forward to take part in an experiment where the majority have to live as prisoners for two weeks while the remainder of the group are prison guards. The project is led by Dr Archaleta (Fisher Stevens) who offers the volunteers $14,000 for taking part in the two-week experiment. Amongst the group is Travis (Adrien Brody) who is a peace protestor eager to raise funds so he can join his girlfriend Bay (Maggie Grace) in India. Elsewhere is the quiet Barris (Forest Whitaker) who strikes up a friendship with Travis in the initial meeting but as the experiment continues the role-play escalates out of control resulting in degrading acts and violence.
After some preliminary interviews the 26 volunteers are taken to an isolated building that has been designed as a prison. 21 men, including Travis, are designated as prisoners while the remaining 5, including Barris, become guards. Early on the audience may suspect that Barris will be sympathetic to the prisoners but they’re soon in for a shock. The man in his early forties who still lives with his mother suddenly revels in his position of authority but the longer the experiment continues the more Barris becomes corrupted by his power. Rules are in place that protect the guards and leave the prisoners subject to humiliation at the hands of the guards. While the group are constantly under surveillance there is no one to interfere with the experiment. The many rules and regulations have to be obeyed though otherwise the experiment is over and no one gets the money they so desperately need.
I haven’t seen the original version of The Experiment but will try it one day. As for this version, I thought the concept was interesting and it builds quite well especially with the deterioration of Barris from a dominated son to a cold descent into sadism and depravity. How the film was going to end was going to be crucial and sadly it leaves a bitter taste. After everything that these men go through, I found the concluding segment stretched credulity a little too far. There’s a decent cast here with Brody and in particular Whitaker leading proceedings well but the film falls flat in the end which is a shame.
The Experiment has a good plot and initially begins well but by the end it finishes up as something of a disappointment. A good cast isn’t enough to quite save things by the final credits. I understand the original version is far superior and I will be seeking it out in the near future so watch this space.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)