Review: Compliance


Compliance - Credit: Archant

Newcomer Dreama Walker plays the role that is the fate of most aspiring actresses — being coerced by a male authority figure into taking off their clothes. In this case, it is a man on the phone claiming to be a police officer claiming its essential to an investigation.

On a busy Friday night, a man identifying himself as Officer Daniels rings up the manager of a fast food chain restaurant, Sandra (Ann Dowd), saying that a customer has accused one of her staff, Becky (Walker), of stealing from her purse. He then persuades her that it will be necessary to strip search her as he and all the other officers on the case are tied up at the moment.

After some confusion and hesitation, they comply and, from there, the hoaxer is able to manipulate an already unbelievable situation to staggering extremes. And all of this is done over the phone.

Naturally this is all based on a true story, and very closely on a true story. Names have been changed – the restaurant was a McDonald's – and, where it does stray from actuality, it is usually through omission rather than fabrication.

Compliance's grisly appeal is that, while you cannot believe that people could really be so gullible, you can really believe that people were that gullible. Once the caller has coaxed them into the initial leap of accepting his reality, the victims actively participate in building it up and maintaining it.

The story is to some extent black comedy but I don't think the film ever invites us to laugh at the people in it. Sandra comes across as a dopey version of Marge from Fargo but nobody is presented as overly stupid, just vulnerable enough to be tricked.

As a prank, it covers the whole spectrum from Beadle to the Stanford Prison Experiment.

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The appeal for the film-makers is that it all falls perfectly into place. The story is the statement — it throws up limitless contemporary and historic parallels and relevance, none of which need to be pointed out. All the film-maker has to do is clinically and dispassionately replicate events.

Zobel, being a young director desperate to make his mark, can't quite do that. He has to allow himself a few directorial flourishes to show what he can do. He does good flourishes, but everything that detracts from the clinical presentation of events distracts from the film's impact.


Director: Craig Zobel

Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Bill Camp, Pat Healy, Nikiya Mathis and Ashlie Atkinson

Length: 90 mins