★★★ / ★★★★
It seems just like another busy Friday shift at ChickWich, a fast-food joint in Ohio. Everything is going smoothly, despite an employee who had to stay at home due to a bug going around, until Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, receives a phone call from a man named Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) who claims that one of the female employees is being accused of stealing money from a customer’s purse. Sandra is not exactly sure who the officer is referring to and gives a name without even thinking about it.
The man on the other line now has a name and Becky (Dreama Walker), who has been at the cash register since the beginning of the shift, is called over to the back to sort things out. The first order of business is to find the money by performing a strip-search on the unsuspecting nineteen-year-old. By the end of this busy day, Becky will have been raped.
Written and directed by Craig Zobel, “Compliance” is inspired by true events involving prank callers pretending to be cops and their ability to talk people into doing all sorts of illicit activities. According to the film, seventy incidents have been reported in over thirty states. It is easy to dismiss the premise of the picture by simply reading the synopsis. It is even easier to judge the victims who have been involved in the prank because, after all, don’t they have an idea about how the law works? I say that such is self-centered and ignorant thinking. Not everybody knows what you or I know so it is important to keep everything in perspective. Otherwise, this type of incident would not have occurred well over a dozen times.
The picture is propelled by a script with a good ear for dialogue. The employees at the fast-food restaurant talk like people we encounter while ordering our burger and fries. The early scenes hold a certain level of amusement because it feels true to life. They joke around, talk about their shifts, and their boyfriends and girlfriends. It captures a specific sense of place which is paramount if we are going to believe what is about to transpire.
When it takes a serious turn, it does so in a deceptively simple way. Becky is taken to the back: dimmer lights, very quiet due to being away from the hustle and bustle, and significantly less space to move around. Also, the camera has the tendency to use more close-ups so we can appreciate the subtle emotions drawn on the characters’ faces each time the situation takes a turn. From time to time, we get a chance to exit the room, breathe, and absorb what has just happened. It is apparent that a carefully controlled craft and much thought are put into the material. It is important that they be acknowledged because otherwise, with all the sick things that happen in that room, it can be considered as an exploitation film.
In my eyes, the writer-director makes one critical error. That is, he shows us the face of the man on the other line. By doing so, Zobel puts a face on evil—white, mid- to late-thirties—which lessens the intensity of his material. Because the camera is generous in showing the perpetrator’s face, most of us will pay less attention to his body language: how it responds once he hears that the thing he tells them to do has been executed. It is ultimately a question of power and how far he can take it. The face can hide plenty of things but how a body reacts requires another level of control.
“Compliance” is not an easy movie to sit through given its subject matter, but it does deserve to be seen. If anything, it makes a case that just because we face someone in a position of power, does not mean we should compromise what we feel in our gut to be wrong or immoral. It is our responsibility to ask questions and protect ourselves from those wishing to exploit us.