Written and Directed by Craig Zobel
Starring Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker and Pat Healy
I know that COMPLIANCE is inspired by true events and is very clear about this fact right at the onset, but I just found myself finding it more and more difficult to believe as I watched. My frustration with the characters and the situation mounted exponentially from scene to scene, to the point I wanted to shut it off numerous times, but pushed through. The story, which I will detail in a moment, is certainly a very horrifying one, as well as one that should be told, if only just so it does not happen again. That said, I’m not sure it makes for a good movie, unless you enjoy watching situations deteriorate unnecessarily into realms of inexplicable discomfort and torture just for fun.
In April of 2004, a man called a McDonald’s restaurant in Kentucky, claiming to be a police officer. He spoke with the restaurant manager and explained that one of her female employees had stolen from a client and that he needed her to do some things to the suspect before the police could arrive. It is innocent enough at first, even though the employee insists she didn’t steal anything, but before long, the manager is strip searching the employee at the instruction of the officer. This is somehow the least horrible thing that happened to that poor girl before the night was through. Switch this scenario from McDonald’s to a chicken joint named Chickwich, and you have COMPLIANCE, a film that recreates these events so specifically, that it almost seems to delight in the bizarre torture of both this girl, and its audience.
This kind of situation can only truly be recounted and explained by those involved. Only they can say how they rationalized agreeing to command after clearly inappropriate command given by this man on the phone. COMPLIANCE presumes only one explanation, that these people aren’t very bright. Surely, there is a psychological explanation for why all involved, to varying degrees, blindly accepted this supposed authority without any question whatsoever, but writer/director, Craig Zobel, does not dig underneath any surface to find out what that is. I’m not sure whether this is because he doesn’t care to or rather because he just doesn’t know how to. Instead, he poses the question to his audience without any idea of the answer and so we too are left scratching our heads in the end. And, much to our dismay, we are subjected to every single painstaking detail of this horrendous act along the way.