Craig Zobel’s film “Compliance” is an unusual but an effective thriller. It shows how dangerous it can be to always follow the rules and it also shows how far some people might go to obey authority, even if said authority isn’t right there in front of them. It presents a specific situation, mostly taking place over the course of one day. Zobel’s direction is blunt and straightforward in showing the events unfold one after the other. There aren’t any big names in the cast but all of the actors are surprisingly convincing and natural. It can be rather intense, at times I even shivered a little bit. And it essentially asks: What would you do in that same situation?
As I said, the movie mainly takes place during one day and at one location, a fast food restaurant. The straight edged manager Sandra (Ann Dowd, perfectly natural and makes her performance look effortless) is having a stressful day. One of her bone headed employees left the freezer door open the previous night, letting almost all of the restaurant’s ingredients spoil. Luckily, she was able to get a last minute delivery, although she’s still short on bacon. To make matters worse, tonight she will be understaffed, only have three other employees, and they’re expected to get a lot of customers tonight. Then to make matters even worse she gets a call from a police detective.
The detective informs her that one of her young workers Becky (Dreama Walker) has stolen money from a customer. Instead of letting the detective come down the restaurant to deal with Becky he tells Sandra to do it for him. Sandra being the straight edge she is complies and follows the detective’s every wish, even though he’s not even there. It starts with a strip-search of Becky, then Sandra and the others are asked to do things that don’t sound right, but they do them anyway and quickly things get out of hand.
During the movie I kept on wanting to stand up and shout at the screen: “You idiots! Just second-guess the guy! Just say no! He isn’t even there!” But of course, I would be causing a distraction for everyone else in the theater. I think it’s a legitimate response to have. These people are incredibly stupid. We live in an age where people can successfully sue the police department and get off of charges on technicalities, so it would make sense.
But then later on, when I got a chance to wind down, I thought: is that really what I would do in that situation? Would I really say no? Or would I go along with it like Sandra? It’s impossible to know for sure. It’s easy for me, just sitting there watching from an outsider’s perspective, to say I wouldn’t do it but the truth is I don’t know how I would really react, no one does. And that’s where this movie is effective; it makes you think long after you’ve finished watching it.
I don’t want to say too much more. “Compliance” is a movie that you should go in to with little knowledge. The only real flaw I had with the picture is that the resolution feels a little rushed and bogged down with too much after-the-fact information. Also, I’m not sure you’d get much more out of it on a second viewing. It makes you think about it afterwards, but it isn’t ambiguous. You can understand everything after one seeing. Still, “Compliance” gets the job done, in keeping you invested the whole way through and it leaves you with an interesting discussion topic.