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2012 | 90 min | R | 2.39:1



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Movie appeal

Psychological thriller100%


Theatrical release date

 17 August, 2012
 22 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from Compliance Blu-ray

Compliance Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, August 31, 2012

Sure to raise pulse rates and incite shockwaves of disbelief, “Compliance” is an exceptional example of provocative filmmaking, taking viewers on a 90-minute-long journey of humiliation, manipulation, and good old fashioned stupidity. It’s a riveting watch, with a stranglehold of suspense expertly maintained by writer/director Craig Zobel, who accepts the challenge of adapting a true crime situation without pumping the plot full of fiction, holding to the innate horror of the central violation while subtly shifting the ground beneath the viewer’s feet. Bravely uncomfortable and sure to inspire heated post-movie (and likely mid-movie) conversation, “Compliance” is haunting, positively enraging when it sinks in that this was no nightmare, but a reality.

It’s business as usual inside an Ohio ChikWich fast food restaurant, with manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) looking to remain calm on a busy Friday night despite troubles with spoiled inventory and the general slackness of her teenaged staff, which includes Becky (Dreama Walker). Fielding a phone call during the dinnertime rush, Sandra is confronted by Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) on the other end of the line. Claiming he has footage of Becky stealing money out of a customer’s purse, Officer Daniels demands Sandra sequester the teen girl in the manager’s office, with orders to question the employee about the crime. Guiding Sandra through the process of interrogation, Officer Daniels remains firm but encouraging, while the harried manager doesn’t question the tone or the escalation of the inquiry, which eventually leads to a strip search. Soon involving other employees and Sandra’s fiancé Van (Bill Camp), Becky’s ordeal carries on into the night, without a single person in the ChikWich bothering to question the true identity of Officer Daniels.

The case providing the inspiration for “Compliance” occurred inside a Kentucky McDonald’s in 2004, though incidents of this prank call nature were reported around the country. It’s a fascinating starting point for a turbulent screen inspection, with Zobel smartly exploiting the outrageousness of Officer Daniels’s intensifying demands, employing a casually manipulative tone to ease viewers into the possibility of such blind obedience. Preying on fear of law enforcement officials, Office Daniels easily takes command of the situation, ordering Sandra to humiliate Becky on a faux quest to retrieve stolen money, threatening the teen with a night in jail if she resists, also toying with the manager’s false sense of power over her staff, where she wields adult responsibility like a badge, happily barking at her subordinates. In a film of painful realism, perhaps the most striking scenes are found early on, where we see Sandra stepped on by a furious food deliveryman, while Becky carries herself proudly with the knowledge of her popularity with boys, while Sandra is settling for a boozing, dim contractor in Van. Although “Compliance” doesn’t paint the manager as a villain in this confrontation, there’s enough disdain in the air to understand why Sandra didn’t immediately halt the interrogation, adding to the disease of it all.

As the phone call continues through dinner, Becky endures false accusations and a humiliating strip search, with her clothes removed from the premises for “evidence” purposes. While merely a voice for the opening act of the feature, Officer Daniels is eventually revealed in full as a suburban dad with sick fantasies casually working the prank, using a threat of punishment to keep the ChikWich (a real franchise, unwisely agreeing to be associated with such a dark picture) team in line. The performance by Healy is chilling, mixing salacious direction with smirking responses, easily raise audience ire. Dowd is also extraordinary, sustaining a clear view of Sandra’s personality quirks and habits of personal protection, inhabiting a lady having difficulty hiding her broken spirit. Walker also deserves credit for her work, preserving Becky’s anxiety with her growing suspicion about the call, though powerless to battle against determined authority figures instantly convinced of her guilt.

Matters grow even more dire for Becky as the night wears on, soon left in the care of Van, who uses Officer Daniel’s instructions to feed his own propensity for sexual violence. “Compliance” is spare yet snowballs superbly, poking viewers with scenes of questioning employees who fail to act on their instincts, keeping the proceedings thrillingly exasperating. The actual conclusion of the tale leaves much to be desired, finding Zobel caught between ending the effort on a cold slap of horror and following the story to a point of legal satisfaction. The filmmaker makes a curious choice for his climax, and one that’s unsatisfying, but does little to dilute the stress incurred by the rest of the movie. “Compliance” is a truly disturbing psychological study, yet executed in a manner that keeps the demented happenings compulsively watchable.

Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger, Ashlie Atkinson

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