Movie Review: “Compliance” – What Would You Do?

Written by Spencer Sterritt September 16, 2012

The new film by director Craig Zobel, “Compliance” is based on the unnerving events of a few years ago that involved prank calls that got wildly out of control. A man would call a restaurant, posing as a police officer, and tell the manager that an employee has gotten in trouble with the law, and needs to be detained. What follows would be a quick slide into depravity as the employee in question would be stripped and humiliated, while their coworkers wouldn’t even think of defying the prank caller. This film does an excellent job of getting into the heads of those involved, and asks some big questions about authority.

Here’s a news clip of the actual story:

When you’ve done nothing wrong…

I remember hearing about the spree of pranks in the United States (a total of 70 across 30 states) where a man would call claiming to be a police officer, and would get the employees to torment another one of the their co-workers. The moment I heard of this news story, the first thing that crossed my mind was ‘why didn’t anyone just say no? How hard can it be?’ That was the general consensus from everyone who heard and reported on the story. ¬†Craig Zobel certainly took on quite a task making this film and he succeeds where it counts, with making us understand why everyone involved, from the employees to a fiancee, just didn’t say no.

All of the actors do their best at keeping you involved. Everything is underplayed to just the right degree, applying a creepily calm veneer over the film. Ann Dowd as the manager Sandra, and Dreama Walker¬†(from Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23) as Becky (the poor main victim), do wonders here and don’t buckle under the pressure of having most of the film focus on them. Dreama Walker never overacts or starts screaming bloody murder, and you never expect her to, even though it’s the most logical thing to do.

…the hardest thing to do is defend yourself

Whilst inside the office, Zobel uses a host of subtle tricks to keep you constantly queasy, his favorite being to constantly raise and lower the camera by just a few inches for whole scenes at a time. The film doesn’t shy away from showing the torment on Dreama, featuring her breasts in many shots as she is forced to be naked (though it never becomes tasteless).

Where the film slips is everything outside of the office. Let loose from such a confined space, Zobel doesn’t seem to know what to focus on. There’s a lot of background shenanigans such as an incident with a freezer that are constantly brought up as if they are important, but don’t add up to anything. He also has a terrible habit of following people as they walk, no matter how banal the destination. What he should be focusing on is all of the people in the front of the restaurant, and how they got to be at this specific restaurant. The incident in the back office is a perfect metaphor for how much authority we have in our own lives, and how we are constantly being told to do this, buy that, listen to this person, no matter what.

Zobel constantly cuts to the customers eating and ordering and then back to the man on the phone working on everyone in the tone of an advertiser. For the same reason that people don’t say no to burgers that will clog your arteries and kill you in no time flat, those in the back don’t say no to stripping and humiliating a worker. It seems like a stretch, but once you’re in the film it makes perfect sense.

“Compliance” is a grueling film, keeping you with the humiliation in real time. By the end of the viewing I was exhausted and deeply unnerved. It is certainly not a flawless film, but the fine acting and painstaking direction within the manager’s office kept me riveted to this terrifying tale.

My Rating: 7/10


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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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