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USA 2012
Directed by
Craig Zobel
90 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars


Synopsis: Fast food store manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a phone call from Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) informing her that one of her staff is accused of stealing from a patron. He asks for her help in investigating the crime. What follows is something you wouldn’t believe, but the story is, allegedly, based on true events.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Milgram electro-shock experiments will know what’s coming with this film. When faced with authority, and absolved of personal responsibility, people can do some truly horrifying things to each other. Even so, the “Based On True Events” text that flashes up before the title card will have you on Google post-screening.  Like Catfish the events seem too extreme to be credible. I’m still not convinced it’s not an elaborate hoax. But that said, truth can be stranger than fiction.

When we first meet Sandra, it’s clear that she likes to take care of things herself and has a fear of authority. The business has just lost over $1000 worth of produce because someone didn’t close the fridge door properly the night before. She’s fixed it but she hasn’t let her regional manager know yet.  Her personality is quickly sketched in a few short interactions and then she’s being told by Officer Daniels that a 19 year old blonde girl has been described by a patron as having stolen money. Sandra immediately offers that it would be Becky (Dreama Walker). Officer Daniels asks her to search her belongings and detain her while they come over to pick her up. But then he starts to ask more of her. Can she search her purse, can she search her clothes, she should probably strip search her just in case. And on and on it goes, with both Sanda and Becky accepting that they have to do as they’re told, because if they don’t it could go very badly for Becky.

Where things finally end up is genuinely awful, and the sharp and tense direction by Craig Zobel creates an oppressive environment that creeps off the screen and envelops you. At least one person walked out of my screening and I’ve heard reports of that not being uncommon. There were plenty of gasps and laughs of incredulity as well. People afterwards spoke of wanting to shout at the screen. Indeed, you’ll want to call every single person in the film a stupid fool because yes, they are. The total unquestioning obedience to an anonymous voice on the phone is scary to watch.

Compliance is a feel-bad film that nonetheless leaves you impressed with the skill behind its construction. The performances by Dowd and Walker are convincing, and Pat Healy’s work as just a voice on the phone is finely judged. But fans of Zobel will be in for a bit of a shock. This is a far cry from the days when he made all those funny flash animations on the old internet sensation, Homestar Runner. He’s clearly a man with range and a filmmaker to watch.




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