I deal with my fair share of gullible people on a day to day basis- granted the extent to which they are gullible are innocent enough especially nothing that might irrevocably shatter their perception and outlook on life in general. I am fully aware of the true events that Craig Zobel’s film COMPLIANCE is based on and regardless of the accuracy of the events as depicted I still had a hard time believing that anyone could be this foolish. My judgment comes more from a place of perception about the characters and their lack of common sense and decency than it is a damning view of the film. COMPLIANCE is equal parts frustrating and fascinating even if I don’t see it having a whole lot of replay value.
Based on true events where a man calls up a fast food restaurant pretending to be a police officer and asking to speak with a manager. Once he has the by the book manager, Sandra (Ann Dowd), on the line he tells her that an employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), is being accused of stealing money from a customer and that she needs to bring her in back for questioning. Once Becky has been detained in the back the officer continually takes advantage of Sandra’s stressed demeanor and the fact that the store is in the midst of one of their busiest nights. The officer insists that he will be sending a unit to deal with the matter as soon as possible, but until then Sandy attempts to assign guard duty to a series of employees as well as her fiancé to watch her while the officer orders them to carry out a series of increasingly disturbing and degrading acts on Becky with the excise that it’s all standard procedure.
At first the questioning all seems on the up and up and reasonable enough, but the more bizarre the requests get on the other end of the line the more you have to assume no one could be dumb enough to follow the orders. If this were not based on actual footage and records this would have been ridiculous for entirely different reasons. The fascinating aspect here is the way that the man on the other end of the phone played by Pat Healy never flinches and plays perfectly to Dowd’s character’s strict adherence to procedure even if at times she’s blinded by the stress of running a busy restaurant. Healy always has a comeback and a reason for why he’s asking someone to do the act which has different responses from the people choosing to obey or disobey the order.
The frustration comes from how you view the character’s hesitant submission to the requests. The stranger the orders get the more confused the characters act which triggers the automatic response at least from me that wonders why in the world you wouldn’t make one decision that would almost immediately snuff the scam out. However, since there is record of this you can’t simply write it off as some sort of sick commentary about our unflinching efforts to comply with authority.
I do have to question the relevance of the film in general even with as well made and performed as it is. The film doesn’t bother to tell us how everything ended up, leading me to believe that it’s not really looking to inform people who don’t know the story. The story has been covered in the news and certain less graphic footage can be viewed in any number of locations so there was never any pressing need to see this behavior in detail. So as far as I can tell aside from saying that this is based on real events and the ending tag about all the other incidents this serves little but to dramatize this specific instance- which in and of itself is not ground breaking or entirely relevant. The most telling line of the whole film comes towards the end when a character literally says, “This has happened more than once? You’ve got to be kidding-” or something to that effect. Those lines are indicative of how I imagine almost anyone who watches this will feel.
Everything I just mentioned now leads me to wonder what entertainment value if any COMPLIANCE actually has. I mean most blood redded human males aren’t opposed to seeing a cute girl naked, right? Well the entertainment is sucked right out of it when none of it is consensual and increasingly less consensual requests are asked of her. Everything about this poor girl being naked is degrading and I found nothing entertaining about her losing every shred of dignity. I don’t want to get up on a soap box and beat the point to death because if the film strives for some sort of emotional resonance it’d be an entirely different story. As is COMPLIANCE is more concerned with detailing the human condition and instinct to blindly follow figures of authority without raising questions and just how foolish it can be.
Entertainment value aside, Zobel’s direction is really something to behold as he uses the camera in a respectful manner during the really uncomfortable sequences and captures the depravity of Healy’s character perfectly. The performances are all top notch, but I was particularly fascinated by the way Healy plays the perpetrator of the prank call and the facial expressions he gives while giving orders are deeply disturbing and anger inducing. You can argue up and down about how unrealistic COMPLIANCE is and how you would never fall for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are events that did actually take place. In the end the biggest question one has at the end is did the quality of the filmmaking really justify a retelling of this story. From my end the answer is yes and no. As high quality entertainment COMPLIANCE is a total failure, but also a film that doesn’t aim to deliver a fun experience. Instead as an exploration of human indecency, view of authority it excels. COMPLIANCE is tense and disturbing and is a film I have no desire to watch again anytime soon.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)