Title: The Experiment
Studio/Distributor: Stage 6 Films/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins Jr., Ethan Cohn, Fisher Stevens, Travis Fimmel, David Banner, David Lew, Damien Leake, Maggie Grace, Rod Maiorano, Rachel O’Meara, Jeanne Hopson, Jack W. Mishler
Director: Paul T. Schuering
Writer: Paul T. Schuering (adapted from the novel “Black Box” by Mario Giordano & the 2001 motion picture screenplay “Das Experiment” by Mario Giordano, Christoph Darnstädt, Don Bohlinger & Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Synopsis: Based loosely on the 2001 German film “Das Experiment”, a group of very different men sign up for a psychological experiment where they become inmates & guards at a local prison and will get paid a substansial amount of money if it’s a success. But over the course of the experiment, things get violently out of control as everyone becomes in too deep with the roles they’re given.
Bottom Line: Upon stumbling onto this movie on Starz On Demand, I did NOT see “Das Experiment”, the 2001 psychological thriller that inspired this movie. However, you don’t have to see the original source material to see this version of the story. I noticed that film was released by Sony Pictures’ direct-to-DVD outfit Stage 6 Films (who occassionally release their movies in theaters including most recently: Jumping the Broom, Colombiana & their most notable acquistion from the UK “Attack the Block”) and that was when I met the film with hestitation due to the fact that most of the Stage 6 movies are comprised of low-to-medium quality DVD premiere movies that featuring otherwise high-quality actors but then they release something like this (which was originally going to be in theaters) that is instantly surprsing. The film starts off with a opening montage of footage of everything primal & violent, from animal attacks to protests gone awry, then we are introduced to one of our main characters, Travis (Brody), a retirement home worker who just got laid off but met gorgeous protestor Bay (Grace) on the same day. Travis wants to treat Bay to a trip to India but the trip will cost too much, so he decides to go on the search for big money. Travis finds his big money opportunity in a classified ad in the newspaper saying that subjects are needed for an psychological experiment and they will be paid $1,000 after it’s done. Travis takes the chance to get the money he needs by volunteering for the project. Prior to entering the prison, he meets Barris (Whitaker, in another phenomenal performance), an seemingly milquetoast middle-aged man who lives with a overbearing mother, Chase (Gigandet), a womanizing hedonist & Benjy (Cohn), a writer who finds that the experience will make for great literary material, among others. Travis, Benjy and several others will represent the inmates while Barris, Chase & everyone else represents the guards. The man behind the experiment, Archaleta (Stevens), lets them know right off the bat that it will be a harrowing challenge and if anyone leaves or provoke violence, the experiment will be over and no one will be compensated. The prison experiment starts off without a hitch, but soon, everyone gets into their roles too much as all parties involved become physically & mentally tested to their limits. By the time this experiment is over, no one will ever be the same. “The Experiment” is a film that dares to shock you in every way possible. The story is gritty, visceral and extremely dark that it almost becomes a workout that’s meant to exhaust you, the performances are believable that after the first 20 minutes, you forget that these are actors playing parts and the final moments are just as daunting. “The Experiment” is an explosive tension-grabbing thriller that stays with you until the very end. It definitely shows that a movie studio’s direct-to-DVD division can make films of a high-quality caliber.