“das experiment” is the scariest movie i have ever seen.

and that’s without a single serial killer, mutant virus, alien, zombie or even dick cheney.   it’s a fantastic film by german director oliver hirschbiegel based on a novel by mario giordano called “black box.”  the novel was inspired by a 1971 study conducted at stanford.  in the study, 24 undergrads volunteered to live in a mock prison for two weeks.  they were randomly divided into prisoners and guards and within six days, their interactions devolved to the point that the experiment had to be canceled.  the stanford prison experiment has been both widely studied and criticized.

“das experiment” was released in germany in 2001.   in it, tarek (moritz bleibtreu), a journalist in search of a good story, responds to a newspaper advertisement seeking volunteers to participate in an experiment.   tarek is screened and selected to be a prisoner.   the guards, given uniforms, handcuffs and nightsticks, are told they must enforce the rules of the prison but under no circumstances may they commit any violence.    the prisoners clothes are taken away and replaced with short smocks and flip flops.   on each smock is a number, and henceforth, the prisoners are to be known by the number, rather than their name.

whether because he’s a natural born shit-stirrer, or because he’s trying to provoke reactions that will make for a more interesting story, tarek (#77) antagonizes the men playing guards.   they respond by attempting to gain control, first through humiliation and de-humanization, then psychological and physical torture.  because it’s a german movie, you’re unavoidably reminded of the holocaust.   and because it’s 2010 you can’t not think about abu ghraib.

two-thirds of the way through the film i wasn’t sure i could continue to watch it.   i could see where it was going and knew i didn’t want to be with it when it got there.    but the acting and film-making are terrific and it’s irresistible in a can’t-look-away-from-a-train-wreck sort of way.    this is a psychological thriller not to be missed.   it’s available on netflix as a rental or to watch instantly.