Movie Review: Compliance

Soon after a film ends, I am usually able to come up with the angle for my review. If it is a particularly powerful film, sometimes it takes longer to gestate and contemplate my thoughts on it. Craig Zobel’s Compliance is a whole other story. 

It is one of the few films where I just have no idea where to start. While it is not entertaining, it is not a film I regret seeing. Zobel’s second feature is a very confidently told cautionary tale that reveals a level of stupidity that we all hope we cannot be guilty of.

Based on true events, a fact that is made quite clear, the film follows a prank caller as he convinces a fast-food chain manager that her employee has stolen money. Ann Dowd plays the manager, who is convinced to supervise a disgusting series of events that tortures a young girl. The fact it is based on true events is, in someways, very important. Throughout the screening, I heard audience members exclaim their disbelief on what they were seeing on film. 

This is not Zobel’s fault, as his film and the actors portraying these characters, sell it honestly and authentically. That being said, as the plot moves into areas you wish were not possible, you would think people would not fall for a prank call that becomes so sinister and unbelievable.

It is a basic premise, one that becomes increasingly disturbing as the film goes on. The victim, played convincingly by Dreama Walker, is a young, good-looking girl working part-time at the restaurant. While other employees raise concern with the obtrusiveness of the false investigation, no one dares to step in.

Zobel does not judge these characters. Instead, he challenges the audience to consider whether or not they believe they would react in the same way. And while the film has a villain, played with a bizarre level of calm and normalcy by Pat Healy, Zobel does not even go so far as to condemn him either. We are left entirely to judge these characters, and try to figure out what we would do.

Rarely do films lay the facts out so blatantly, as to force the audience to confront this scenario. It is actually more troubling than if it were to make its own mind up. It puts questions into your head you would rather not consider, and it is a technique that has put many off.

Craig Zobel’s first film, Great World of Sound, was a very funny, effective debut. Compliance sees him grow as a filmmaker tenfold. It may not be the most pleasant film, however, it is a very well-constructed film that forces us to confront our own ability to blindly follow authority against our better judgement.

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