A film that proved too challenging for many audience members on its US release, Compliance asks its audience a lot of tough questions, the answers to which might shock us were we to answer honestly.
In the very first scene, the manager of a small town fast food restaurant (Ann Dowd) is already having a pretty challenging day: she’s short staffed and a lot of her produce has been spoilt by a mistake the night before. When a man phones up the back office claiming to be from the police, Dowd does her best to deal with the situation. The man claims that one of her employees, a teenage girl (Dreama Walker), has been caught on camera stealing money from a customer and that Dowd needs to keep her detained in the back room until an officer can come down. Under his instructions, Walker has her phone and bag taken away — and eventually her clothes.
It’s no secret that the film gets darker, as every other restaurant employee brought into this ‘interrogation’ seems to comply -in varying degrees- with the man’s orders.
At some point, audience credulity will be stretched to breaking point: how could anyone believe that a real cop would instruct a stranger to conduct a strip search? How could anybody do this to someone they know? It would be totally unbelievable… had it not actually happened in real life. In fact, similar incidences have occurred over 70 times in the US, according the film’s post script.
At times, Compliance is incredibly tough to stomach, in no small part due to director Craig Zobel’s economical script and the cast’s incredibly believable performances. More terrifying than most horror films we’ve seen, Compliance peels back some ugly layers on the human condition, confirming what normal decent people are capable of doing when they’re merely ‘following orders’.