Director: Craig Zobel.
Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Philip Ettinger, Ashlie Atkinson, Ralph Rodriguez.
Running time: 90 minutes.
Synopsis: On a busy and stressful day at a fast food restaurant, a call comes in from a man claiming to be a police officer. He informs the general manager that one of her staff has stolen from a customer. Unable to make it to the restaurant, the police officer instructs the general manager to perform a strip search, but as the ordeal becomes prolonged and increasingly humiliating, will the staff realise that this officer may not be telling the truth?
In the days after FARGO and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, films that represent themselves as ‘based on a true story’ are always met with a certain amount of skepticism. The first thing most people will do is hit the internet and start picking the film apart, no matter how much tension, emotion, or entertainment was added thanks to liberties taken. The most shocking thing about COMPLIANCE? Every moment is close to reality and there’s the CCTV footage online to prove it.
COMPLIANCE effortlessly creates its atmosphere from the outset. Tensions are already high with overachieving manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) preparing her team for a taxing day due to a fridge left open over night and a lack of pickles. With the threat that corporate might find out, it’s no wonder that she wishes to handle a phone call from a police officer regarding one of her staff members with complete discretion. Becky (Dreama Walker) is accused of stealing from a customer’s purse and is taken into a backroom and questioned by Sandra. The questioning soon turns into a search, which evolves into a strip search, all on the basis of a single phone call.
The performances throughout are nothing short of amazing. Dreama Walker constructs the difficult character of Becky, a role that is far from easy, resulting in the audience questioning her sanity and intelligence when complying with such requests. But Walker manages to portray not a weak character, but a scared and confused young woman whose gradual breakdown as those in power put pressure on her is painful to watch. Ann Dowd is equally impressive as a woman completely blinded by her own path in life. As she is constantly flattered by Officer Daniels (Pat Healy), you can see the pride and ambition slapped across her face without her falling into sadistic moustache-twiddling devilry. Pat Healy gives everything to his role and without him the film wouldn’t succeed, with his charm and sternness making it plausible that people under stress would follow his orders.
Writer and director Craig Zobel should be commended for his bravery in tackling this issue. The fury you’ll feel is similar to Jar Jar Binks starring in a generic horror film where he constantly wants to split up, investigate noises outside and stick his hand in the dark liquid substance that is obviously blood. Not every director would dare make his audience feel like absolute dirt for being a part of humanity, but it needs to be done. Orchestrating a claustrophobic chiller without the need to ever become graphic or vulgar, Zobel leaves you with an unforgettable, displeasing taste.
This is mostly a horror film, and it’s the most terrifying form of social psychological horror. Reactions on the internet show that this film has generated a lot of anger at the situation, film and characters, with many detractors seeming unable to contemplate how and why something like this could happen. But perhaps it’s the fear that deep down they know they could fall for a similar prank. This film should make you angry and leave you questioning the compliance of both victim and those carrying out the orders. Hopefully it will also leave us warier about our own thought processes. COMPLIANCE is not only one of the best films of the last year, but one of the most necessary films of all time.