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 is already having a pretty challenging day: she’s short staffed and a lot of her produce has spoiled due to 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. The events of Compliance are based beat-for-beat on one such fiasco that took place in a Kentucky McDonald’s back in 2004.
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. Some TV fans might know Walker as the non-B on Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 but she shows a frightening level of vulnerability in this film – not just physically, but emotionally as well. Playing the restaurant manager, Ann Dowd has a naturalism that makes her character’s actions both horrific and somewhat understandable.
More terrifying than most horror films we’ve seen, it peels back some ugly layers on the human condition, confirming what normal decent people are capable of doing when they’re merely ‘following orders’. It’s utterly compelling.
Compliance is in cinemas Friday 22 March