UK Release Date: 22nd March 2013
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Craig Zobel
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
Synopsis: When a fast food manager receives a message from a prank caller pretending to be a police officer, she sets into motion a harrowing series of events.
When a film begins with the declaration that it is based on true events, my immediate reaction is always a sigh. However, in the case of Craig Zobel’s harrowing Sundance drama Compliance, the tag is justified. Compliance takes its inspiration from a very real case at a McDonald’s in Kentucky where a young employee was forced into lewd acts by a prank phone caller.
Zobel’s film tells the story of Becky (Dreama Walker) who is in the middle of a busy shift at work when her manager, played by a scintillating Ann Dowd, receives a call from “Officer Daniels” (Pat Healy) claiming that Becky has stolen money from a customer. What follows is a horrifying, abusive story that tests the famous Milgram experiment in a real-life setting.
Dowd’s central performance is absolutely incredible. She is the perfect embodiment of the busy, put-upon worker. Throughout the entire film, she is so stressed and over-worked that she is completely blind to the atrocities that are going on around her and in which she is complicit. Dreama Walker is also solid as the attractive young girl subject to increasingly dark humiliation.
It’s also a very well-made film. Craig Zobel’s direction makes good use of the cramped corridors of the fast food restaurant and the slow reveal of the caller’s true identity is very well managed. It is perhaps the stylish way in which Compliance is shot that makes it all the more disturbing.
But unfortunately, there’s a problem with Compliance. It takes far too much joy in displaying the atrocities perpetrated by “Officer Daniels”. Zobel’s camera rarely looks away and, after a while, it comes across as if Zobel is having almost as much voyeuristic fun as the caller his film is depicting as the villain.
It’s difficult to buy into Compliance’s questions around human nature when the nature of the film maker is also in question. Whilst there certainly is a sophisticated drama to be made about this terrible crime, it probably should’ve handled the subject matter more sensitively than Compliance did.
Overall though, Compliance is a very solid film. The direction is competent, if a little leery, and the acting performances are top notch. It just could’ve done with being a bit less creepy.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.