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Movie Review by Susannah Macklin

Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski, Wotan Wilke Möhring
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

This frightening and thrilling intrusion into the human psyche by German director Oliver Hirschbiegel is set to be the most disturbing shocker of the year! Based on real events surrounding the infamous ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ of the 1970’s – it’s an edge of the seat, bite your lip white-knuckle ride of the worst kind. The sort that builds up slowly – but keeps that sick feeling in your gut long after the ride is finished.

Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu (RUN LOLA RUN)) is a cab driver with more to him than meets the eye. Driving is a secondary job to the investigative writing and photography he works on for a local rag whenever he gets the opportunity. The perfect chance arrives to make double the money when he hears about an experiment being run by some psychologists to aid their study. The aim of the study is to see how people’s personalities change when given labels in certain situations – in this case a prison. Tarek willingly joins the experiment and along with 19 other male participants is told that he will earn a fee on completion of the exercise. Divided up into two teams – prisoners and guards, they are left in the makeshift prison fitted with surveillance cameras for two weeks and given two rules: to live their role as authentically as possible – but never to resort to violence or the experiment will be ended immediately and their fee withheld.

Things start off fairly gently, with the ‘guards’ sauntering through loosely and all parties just wanting to make it to the end as quickly as possible and get their cash. But with money as his motivation, Tarek, who needs a report for his paper, decides to shake things up a bit. However as events unfold, neither he, the other prisoners nor the psychologists are prepared for just how seriously the guards begin to take their parts. As the experiment plays on – it dramatically turns from a role-play study into a gorily violent power struggle with prisoners and scientists becoming trapped in their own experiment – making a bid to survive.

Bloody and bitter, this movie is no picnic. As the no violence ruling of the story is messily flouted, be prepared to be shocked and on the edge of your seat biting into your lip with each unfolding scene. Hirschbiegel’s direction is in part the stuff of genius, allowing the audience to experience every breath holding moment of the prisoners’ existence (including a horrific insight into severe claustrophobia), and part eye shielding excess. Moritz Bleibtreu is exemplary as Tarek, the enigmatic prisoner with his own agenda and a deep-rooted sensitivity, supported by a superb cast and a great script that swings from humorous to heart stopping. With shots that get right up close to the action and no respite for the audience in the moments they need it most, its slightly reminiscent of the chilling peculiarities that made A CLOCKWORK ORANGE such a success. But be prepared – this is Kubrick on Angel Dust!

4 out of 6 stars