"Hey, let's play Guards and Prisoners! OK, bad idea."
Lots of people might argue that horror movies are bad for you. These people are generally the squeamish types who label The Simpsons as a bad influence yet adore Patch Adams. But here's a case in which one's obsession with horror films has led him to some bona-fide actual culture. I know Das Experiment is deep and meaningful because it's in a foreign language and must be deciphered via subtitles.I have a list of foreign and independent horror films that, for one reason or another, were released stateside on a very limited basis or (more often than not) not at all. That this list of movies (which includes great stuff like Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps and My Little Eye) represents what U.S. distributors see as unsaleable says a whole lot about how much U.S. distributors really know about horror movies.
Because despite a fitfully dry opening act, Oliver Hirschbiegel's Das Experiment is Psychological Horror at its most entertainingly disturbing. Loosely based on a real-life scientific study, the film presents 20 volunteers who will participate in a compelling little role-play: half of the participants will assume the role of prison guards with the other half saddled as inmates. The prison is located underground, part of a high-tech laboratory laden with video cameras, dank hallways and generally uncaring overseers.
To say that things go badly would be understating the matter.
Those chosen as guards are quick to discover the thrills of power, while the "prisoners" are soon on the revceiving end of some decidedly unsavory punishments. "All this...after just three days!" moans one of the scientists. And since the experiment is set to run a full two weeks, one can expect things to devolve from nasty to horrible in quick order.
Barring a rather intrusive subplot involving the 'main' prisoner (Moritz Bliebtreu, rock solid excellent here) and his new girlfriend, Das Experiment earns its chills through crafty pacing, realistic characterizations (on both ends of the experiment) and a creepy sensation of seeing men stretched to their mental breaking points.
Some may contend that the faux-guards are a bit too quick to latch onto physical abuse; I'd refute that the scientists' emotional 'screening process' was faulty at best. In other words, giving an unhinged bloke a real sense of power - with no real responsibility - is bound to lead to something ugly.
And boy is that the case here.Das Experiment takes its time with what it has to say (clocking in at just under two hours), but very little of it is uninteresting - and the whole thing is capped off with a third act that will have you squirming in your seat. And I mean that as high praise indeed.