Based on true events, Compliance centres on a fast food restaurant whose manager receives a call, purportedly from the police, alleging that an employee has stolen from a customer and should be detained and searched. As Becky (Dreama Walker) is held in the restaurant office, the requests from the caller become more distressing and invasive.
Craig Zobel’s film has was met with controversy and adversary when screened at the Sundance Film Festival, but while superficially this is a film about the abuse of women, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. As the situation escalates and Becky is subjected to more and more degrading and abusive acts, the question of compliance arises.
Dreama Walker – best known for her role as June in TVs Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23 – proves that she has more to her range than the sweetness and light character she is known for. Walker is one of the biggest victims of the crime, but also as guilty as her manager. After initial resistance, Becky complies with everything she is asked to do, and this becomes one of the most infuriating characters in the film.
Ann Dowd, as manager Sandra, is also a victim and a perpetrator. At no point does she refuse to do what she is asked, even though it is obvious that the character is utterly opposed to the situation. Dowd balances loathing and obedience in her character, but also manages to give Sandra the air of a bully, as she forces Becky to bend to the caller’s will.
As the writer of the film, Craig Zobel has found a way to make an ordinary day extraordinary, in the most unpleasant and ugly manner. As director, Zobel allows the tension to build throughout the film, until the audience is almost fit to shout their opposition and rage at the screen, before allowing the situation to crest and relax. The truly terrifying part of the film is the fact that very few questions are asked of the mysterious caller, even when the interrogation turns abusive and sexual. The film brings the ideas of obedience to authority to the fore, and the audience is almost forced to decide how far is far enough.
Compliance is a well acted, well scripted, tense little film. It makes for uncomfortable viewing since the characters are shown to be fearful and weak, but the film also raises the question; when does compliance become abuse?