Compliance - The New American Dream - Gripping & Provocative - A Review

Thursday, March 21, 2013 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

The plot of Compliance is so incredulous that it is hard to swallow, making it all the more tragic as it is based on actual events. After the darkly glib satire Great World of Sound Craig Zobel turns the heat up with Compliance, way up.

In his 2007 Great World of Sound Zobel took a look at those who would attempt to profit from others dreams and blurred the lines between fact and fiction in doing so, whilst there are some similarities with his take on Compliance - this time he goes straight for the jugular. For a film set mainly in the small back office of a fast food outlet it will grip you more than any horror film Hollywood could cook up.

Compliance Film Poster
Compliance Film Poster

Compliance is a provocative and deeply disturbing study of the human condition and all the more tragic as it "all" actually happened. My wife knew nothing about Compliance going in and couldn't believe that anything like it could happen when she discovered it was based on real events.

compliance beckys dreama walker day just got a whole lot worse
Compliance Dreama Walker Becky's day just got a whole lot worse

Inspired by true events, Compliance unfolds over a busy day in a fast food restaurant when a prank caller convinces a manager that one of her employees has committed a theft and that she will need to be interrogated. What follows is both shocking and thought provoking as the manager and her gullible staff and friends are persuaded to participate in the degradation and humiliation of the innocent Becky.

Video: COMPLIANCE Official UK Theatrical Trailer - in cinemas 22nd March

Craig Zobel uses an incident that took place in Kentucky as the basis of his film, but the "Strip search prank call scam" had been running for over a decade targeting fast food outlets with around 70 similar incidents reported before authorities could clamp down on it.

Compliance Bill Camp as Van
Compliance Bill Camp as Van
The bulk of the film unrolls over one night as the fast food outlet manager Sandra played by Ann Dowd is coerced into detaining one of the younger staff members - Becky played by Dreama Walker in the back office as she is suspected of theft. What follows is a case study in social manipulation and opportunism that beggars belief - as various people including; Marti ( Ashlie Atkinson ),  Kevin ( Philip Ettinger ), Robert Gilmour ( Matthew Skibiak ) and most notably Van (Bill Camp) are brought into the back office to help detain Becky as the fast food outlet's core business take precedence over - well just about everything else apart from the voice of Officer Daniels ( Pat Healy )

Compliance Pat Healy as Officer Daniels
Compliance Pat Healy as Officer Daniels
Craig Zobel uses all the resources at his disposal; the cast, environment, editing, sound all play their part to create a starkly lit solid real world that events play out in. Shot almost entirely in the back office of the fast food outlet with a handful of characters Zobel creatively uses the paraphernalia and changing ambience of the fast food outlet to reflect what is taking place in the back of the outlet as Becky succumbs to submission - all whilst customers are lining up for their fast food convenience in the shop front.

Compliance Ann Dowd as Sandra
Compliance Ann Dowd as Sandra

As a whole Compliance is a disturbing and gripping thriller that will leave a sour stain, initially I thought Zobel seemed to struggle with the more human aspects of his characters, leaving their thoughts and motivations to interpretation - like the huge gaps in Becky's arc from upset employee to compliance - however with hindsight this may have been the most powerful tool in his director's belt, as events play out with a subtle authenticity forcing one to engage their minds interpreting events portrayed, rather than be muddied with dramatisation, emotion and leery sensationalism. Whilst this is food for thought afterwards, it interrupts the storytelling as it takes place.

compliance desperate dreama walker becky in apron
Compliance a desperate Dreama Walker as Becky in apron
If Zobel's aim was to provoke questions about the incident and society as a whole - it works as Compliance had my wife and I debating events for more than 2 week after we saw it at the London Film Festival yet we are still no closer to understanding why we do the things we do to each other.

Compliance is in cinemas from this Friday 22 March, 2013

Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Craig Zobel
Stars: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy