The infamous 1971 experiment in prison dynamics conducted by Philip Zimbardo has symbolized the authoritarianism in the human psyche ever since. A new film—that portrays Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) placing 24 student volunteers into a mock prison and dividing them into correctional officers and inmates—doesn't challenge the resulting conventional wisdom about the situational nature of morality and the banality of evil. (The guards quickly become abusive and the makeshift cells unsanitary.) But a skeptical modern viewer of The Stanford Prison Experiment will see the chaotic, flawed experimental design. The project was called off after a mere six days, thanks to the objections of a fellow academic.
The competent retelling, which hews closely to footage and transcripts from the actual event, quietly conveys the genuinely horrifying behavior from subjects and scientist alike.