Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Certain movies can be frustrating, especially if they’re “based on a true story.” You might recognize the plot of director Craig Zobel’s film Compliance from an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit starring Robin Williams. Ultimately, you’re better off watching the SVU episode then watching this film. Zobel’s film presents the facts bare, but with no motivation. Sure viewers can say “well that’s how the real people acted” but it only presents the idea that the people involved were stupid themselves. Compliance is exploitation for the sake presenting a true story. It’s one of those films you’ll either find revolutionary, or will make you so angry that you’ll want to break something.
Compliance is based on a series of prank calls that happened at various fast food restaurants throughout the US. The caller would generally identify himself as a policeman, tell the manager an employee had committed a crime, and force the manager to perform various acts. In the film, Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of a local Chickwich (substituting for the McDonalds of the real case) gets a phone call from a cop claiming that an employee named Becky (Dreama Walker) has committed theft. As Sandra tries to listen to what the supposed officer is saying, poor Becky is forced into being exploited and assaulted.
The only way you can enjoy Compliance is if you suspend any belief in human intelligence. I spent the entire hour and 25 minutes of this film’s runtime screaming “Why don’t you just leave,” “Say no,” “Ask for an attorney.” I understand maybe Becky, being a young 19-year-old, wanting to be cooperative, but then that leaves Sandra to be a total moron. The film does try to develop a hostile relationship between the two women to lend a bit of credence to this logic, but it’s tenuous and certainly doesn’t add up to Sandra losing all concepts of right and wrong. The film opens with Sandra exhibiting jealousy towards Becky, who’s popular with the employees of the Chickwich and has a lot of male attention. It sets up an interesting power play later on, giving the possibility that Sandra is taking some delight in Becky’s torture, but based on the acting that is removed. Instead Sandra acts like she has no concept of how to do her job. I’m pretty sure in the training manual to be a manager one is not allowed to leave a naked employee with a non-employee?!
There’s no reason why the film couldn’t have changed the facts a bit to allow these character to not come off so poorly. Most audiences know of basic rights, and a lot actually watch SVU, so to believe no one questions the guy on the phone becomes laughable. The SVU episode worked so well because it explored the psychosis of the prank caller, and delved into the Milgram experiment and other psychological experiments on authority. Here, the film lays out the story with no depth leaving the audience frustrated and unsatisfied. When Becky is forced to perform sex against her will all hope of believing these characters are unknowing is ridiculous.
The acting is okay but the actors don’t seem to know which way to play particular scenes, lending to my belief that the script doesn’t know how to present the facts. Again, I enjoyed the subtle hostility between Becky and Sandra. Ann Dowd is great as the dowdy manager who feels she has to be hip, and competes in her head against Becky. Dreama Walker is also darling as young girl put in a horrific situation. As the film progresses and Sandra becomes busy at the Chickwich, it’s easy to see her take her frustrations out on Becky…if Becky wasn’t naked in her office. The mid-way point of the film makes you hate all these characters for their gross incompetence. Several times throughout the film Sandra comes back in the room, yet Becky never mentions the horrors being enacted on her by Sandra’s boyfriend; nor does Becky act traumatized at all. Walker puts on this dead-eyed stare that I wasn’t sure was meant to invoke trauma or boredom!
The final moments of the film feel like pure filler. There’s a lengthy sequence involving a guy who I assumed was a detective (never explained) driving around and smoking. I guess they assumed the prank caller was walking down the street or something. There’s discussion of Becky suing Sandra, and Sandra performing a heartless interview about how she was victimized. At the end I didn’t feel for any of these characters, and the ending just set up this idea that the screenwriter had no idea where to go with the story and literally ended it.
Compliance is frustrating, annoying, smutty, and exploitative. I’ve read several reviews saying this is one of those “if you didn’t like it, you didn’t get it” films. I got it, loud and clear, but there is nothing in here I couldn’t have enjoyed more in the original Law & Order episode. The acting is vacant, the plot is boring, and the “trauma” is just stupidity enacted over and over again. Look for this to turn up in my year’s Worst list!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.