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Soundtrack review: The Stanford Prison experiment (Andrew Hewitt – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The Stanford Prison experiment (Andrew Hewitt – 2016)


What happens when a college psych study goes shockingly wrong? In this tense, psychological thriller based on the notorious true story, Billy Crudup stars as Stanford University professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who, in 1971, cast 24 student volunteers as prisoners and guards in a simulated jail to examine the source of abusive behavior in the prison system. The results astonished the world, as participants went from middle-class undergrads to drunk-with-power sadists and submissive victims in just a few days. “The Stanford prison experiment” tells this story and the music was written by Andrew Hewitt.

I guess the opening titles want to show us that in the beginning there were no worries that this experiment might go wrong; the main theme is jolly and playful and almost carefree in sound. I like it that the composer chose to go electronic for this score. Even if in the beginning the music is light I enjoy the sound. The score is made of moments, most of them shorter than 2 minutes, probably to show the hectic nature of the changes in human behavior.

When I first read about the story I imagined a dark and depressive score because this is about the deterioration of the human psyche. But then as the score progressed I remembered the best fiction about prison, the TV show “Oz” and how it sounded; what I had in mind meant an enhancement of the human feelings and emotions while this story shows dehumanization. Feelings in the music dissolve and the score itself becomes an experiment, a sadistic smile in the corner of a mouth. The music suggests to me different exercises and observation, but cold and objective. There is little to no emotion in this score but strangely it works. I remember that the story is actually an experiment and if this were a documentary, the music would fit very well.

If I disregard the story and its influence the music is quite enjoyable in itself. It’s light and pulsating electronic music with the occasional darker nuances and it reminds a bit of the score for “Jobs”. There are also a few atmospheric moments which I am very drawn to, like the middle section of “Prisoner interrogation”. Overall “The Stanford prison” experiment is an enjoyable and intriguing score which makes me even more curious about the movie. It also works like a 40 minute long single cue as it is hard for me to separate highlights or favorite tracks. I would mention “Christina arrives” as the ethereal and warm center of this score.

Cue rating: 77 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 1 / 41

Album excellence: 3%


Christina arrives

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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