‘Compliance’ Movie Review – The Anti-Crowd-Pleaser
Even though it has been close to three months since I’ve seen Craig Zobel’s Compliance, I still remember the gut-wrenching aftermath. I saw it on a Thursday night sandwiched between a day of Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) press screenings and a hectic Friday, where I was going to publish four movie reviews. I came so close to skipping the screening altogether but decided to just stay up late after to finish my work.
In a lot of ways, I’m very happy I made this decision – even though I couldn’t focus afterwards. As you may (or may not) know, Compliance ended up being my favorite SIFF film. It is very tough to consider this anyone’s “favorite” per se, because the material is so awkward, risque, and well…scary. It’s a film worth seeing again, but not a film that anyone has the stomach to see many times.
What makes it this way? Based on a true story – and yes, I’ve researched this terrifying fact and it is completely valid – Compliance is a sort-of-drama-sort-of-documentary about a fast food chain that receives a call from the “police” suggesting one of their employees has committed a crime. The young, doe-eyed Becky (Dreama Walker) is accused of stealing from a customer, but they conveniently can’t make the arrest quite yet. Instead, the caller insists that the manager (Ann Dowd) holds Becky while they sort things out.
“Sort things out” is the easiest way to put the disgusting plot that ensues. To say more would do an injustice to the film (albeit, not nearly the injustice you actually see).
At first, it looks like a movie about powerful persuasion. Even knowing nothing about the plot, I could tell almost immediately something was very off with the creepy phone call. Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) wasn’t acting like a “normal” police officer, but he was putting on a manipulation clinic. By demeaning Becky and complimenting Sandra (the manager), he slowly controlled the power in an extraordinary way.
Then, things started to get weirder. As Zobel started to push the envelope, he dared each and every person to keep watching. Some…like a few in the theater with me, couldn’t take it. Others shifted uncomfortably in their seat as they all came to the same realization:
What would I do in this situation?
We’d all love to think we’d stand up to this caller and stay strong. Hell, I’m convinced it wouldn’t continue as long as it does in Compliance, but I also realize I’m in the audience. I, somewhat, know what is going on. The characters on-screen (and in real life) obviously didn’t realize how badly they were being duped. But, when a movie seems this real, and dares you to reflect on how you would act, it is terrifying.
For a movie that I categorized as part-drama-part-documentary, maybe it’s better to look at this thing as a horror story. It’s probably more horrifying than any “horror” movie I’ve seen…because it’s true.
Zobel deserves a lot of credit, too, because he presents the film perfectly. It starts out as wide-open as possible, but slowly confines the story more, making it extremely claustrophobic. He also gets the credit for an amazing script, which features close to half of the dialogue coming through a telephone, another feat worth mentioning.
Compliance is the exact opposite of a “crowd-pleaser.” It’s the type of movie that half the people love (myself included), while the other half loathe. While I can understand why some people don’t like it, I do think there is a degree of denial to all the hatred. At the least, Compliance is a thought-provoking case-study…but at the most, it’s a profound look at human psychology.
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