On a busy Friday at an understaffed fast food restaurant stressed manager Sandy (Ann Dowd) gets a phonecall from the police. An Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) claims that Becky (Dreama Walker) one of the employees has stolen something from a customer and asks Sandy to detain her until he arrives. Sandy obliges, then officer Daniels starts asking for more help from Sandy.
Compliance is like a slow motion kick to the stomach.
A controversial film which was met with contempt and viewers walking out of screenings as well as accusations of misogyny and exploitation when it was screened at Sundance.
Whilst it is an excellent film it’s not an enjoyable one. It will undoubtedly provoke a strong reaction of disbelief at what’s happening but despite whatever rational logic will tell you this is based on something that actually happened and a cursary Google search will bring up plenty of details on the real life events.
The core of Compliance is the notion of obedience and blind submission to authority.
Dowd is impressive as the stressed Sandy and a bubbling resentment of the pretty and young Becky definitely comes into play when Sandy is told by Officer Daniels to comply with requests that become more unseemly. Any questioning of these requests is met with a reinforcement of authority and an explanation as to why they need to be done with Sandy slowly but surely giving in to the voice of authority.
The desperate to keep her job Becky, an equally impressive performance from Walker, is soon detained in the back office seperated from her co-workers and wondering what’s going on. Sandy is told to strip search Becky and gets Marti (Ashlie Atkinson) to be a witness to the search. Becky is left naked apart from an apron.
From there things get distinctly darker.
It’s soon revealed that Daniels is no police officer but just a guy on a phone at his home just wanting to see how far people are willing to go doing what he says. Daniels manipulates Sandy and several others including Becky and Van (Bill Camp) Sandy’s partner via a combination of undermining them with constant requests for them to calm down and listen to him , call him sir to show they are listening, and offering them choices, one example being Sandy telling Becky she can either be strip searched or taken down to jail where she’ll spend the night as though there are no other options.
As things progress Becky becomes more broken down by the humiliation of her ordeal and her perky personality is completely stripped away and Sandy’s resentment manifests in far more hostile treatment of Becky at one point agreeing with Officer Daniels that she should be punished for speaking to her.
Shots of fries sizzling away, soiled utensils and the busy restaurant with it’s oblivious customers and Becky’s co-workers who don’t want to get involved because it’s the police, interspersed with shots of the broken glassy eyed Becky staring into the middle distance just add to the queasy feeling as events progress.
Whilst Walker is undeniably attractive and spends a considerable amount of time in a vulnerable state accusations of writer/director Craig Zorbel being misogynistic or exploitative seem to be poorly constructed. There are numerous instances when the camera could have lingered on Walker but this doesn’t happen and there is nothing remotely sexy about Walker’s submissive state.
With the knowledge that this did actually happen, the most unseemly aspects are actually taken from one particular incident, the viewing experience goes from passive to active and reactions to the events unfolding will be to question why would someone go along with these requests? Why would someone allow someone to do that? Most pertinently though is the statement ‘I wouldn’t do that’. When actually as is revealed at the film’s closing this didn’t just happen once but dozens of times although the details for seperate instances vary clearly a lot of people ‘did that’.
Proof that sometimes truth really is stranger and more disturbing than fiction.