Das Experiment [L’Expérience] (2001)

(In theaters, October 2002) Small-scale, high-tension thriller loosely adapted from a real-life psychology experiment conducted in the sixties in which randomly-picked students were assigned “guard” and “prisoner” roles. The real-life experiment was scheduled to run two weeks and was stopped after six days out of concern for the participant’s mental stability. This fictionalized version, of course, is much worse and ends with a body count. While the film is low-budget, it’s exceedingly well-done with a real visual flair. The “scientific rigor” of the experiment’s handlers is laughable, but let’s not ask questions as long as it leads to some drama. And there’s plenty of drama here, mostly sparking from a smart-alexy protagonist who’s got a really good reason to cause mischief and a Hitler-haired antagonist who comes to use his position as a guard to let loose with his sadistic tendencies. It escalates, engulfs the rest of the participants and even spills in “the real world”. Good stuff! It’s a shame that this film won’t get a wider distribution, because it’s actually provocative, nightmarish and gripping. Destined to a certain cult following, much in the same way than the not-dissimilar Cube did. But even with the unsatisfactory coda, Das Experiment fares better as a psychological thriller. This film should prove to be of special interest to psychology students and fans of claustrophobic suspense. (Seen in French)

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