Stephen King once said, “Monsters are real…They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” This statement popped into my head while I was watching Compliance. I also wondered if it was possible for a conscientious person to perform outrageous acts on another simply because someone of authority ordered them to. At what point does an individual become responsible for their actions?
Story (3/5) – The story is based on actual events which took place on April 9, 2004, at a fast food restaurant in Mount Washington, Kentucky. The names were changed of course, but the movie’s depiction of the events remained faithful to what occurred there.
In the movie, the store manager of a local ChickWich restaurant receives a call from someone claiming to be Officer Daniels. He states that he has the regional manager on the other line and that they are investigating a claim that one of the cashiers stole money from a customer. He asks the store manager to detain the employee and strip search her on the police’s behalf. When the money is not found, Daniels changes his story, explaining that he’s looking for possible drugs instead.
The story continues to escalate further with more people being brought into the situation. These people are asked to participate in the further humiliation of the accused employee. For reasons of their own, many of the participants blindly comply with what is asked of them. Some do refuse to participate, but fail to notify the proper authorities about what is going on. Even the victim herself obeys with many of the caller’s demands.
Character (3/5) – There are three primary characters in this film: Sandra the store manager (Ann Dowd), Becky the accused employee (Dreama Walker), and Officer Daniels the caller (Pat Healy).
Audiences will quickly develop a love and hate relationship with Sandra as she seeming allows events to worsen for Becky. I found myself sympathizing with Sandra at times as the caller clearly takes advantage of her too. But there are also moments when you are frustrated with the manager’s lack of suspicion. She has taken initiative before, as shown by her handling of the food spoilage situation and during her insistence at having another manager present for the strip search. But she fails to take the important initiative to confirm with known authorities about Officer Daniels. She instead allows some voice on the other end of a phone line to control and manipulated the situation completely.
Becky meanwhile seems overwhelmed by what is going on. So much is done to her and yet she remains almost as compliant as Sandra and the others. When she actually does refuse, she is humiliatingly punished for it.
The reason this happens is because of Officer Daniels, the caller. He is both disturbing and smart. Using small nuggets of knowledge that he has gathered ahead of time, he utilizes his social engineering skills to obtain more information and to make his claims seem more credible. In his arsenal of tricks, he is able to use compliments to keep Sandra off-guard and compliant. Whenever she started to question things, Daniels quickly tells her that she is doing the right thing and that she is helping the police. At the same time, he uses another trick on Becky, her fear of authority, to keep her obedient. This includes implied threats against her brother.
He even manages to manipulate Sandra’s fiancé Van (Bill Camp). I don’t want to spoil that part for you, but I will say that Van’s actions ultimately lead to Sandra leaving him. It’s too bad he didn’t act more like Kevin (Philip Ettinger) or Harold (Stephen Payne). Things may have ended up differently for him and the others.
Direction (3/5) – This film was directed by Craig Zobel. Zobel delivered believable performances from his cast and he kept the story flowing well.
Additionally, the cinematography by Adam Stone was solid and tastefully handled. And as you may imagine, camera placement can be critical in a movie like this.
Execution (2/5) – Nothing spectacular to report for this category unfortunately. The music by Heather McIntosh was interesting and never distracted you from the film. Everything else was simply well executed.
Entertainment (2/5) – I scored this category low, because the movie was too good at accomplishing its goal. The film shows the ugliness of blindly following orders and with being compliant to authority. The film keeps you riveted like a good page-turner, and it’s hard not to want to see what will happen next. But that said, there is pit in your stomach that forms when you watch this film. You find yourself screaming at the characters for not seeing the obvious signs. You then question whether you would behave the same way if placed in a similar situation. You want to say no, but you can’t be sure, so it pulls at you as you’re watching the film. As such, the film’s entertainment value plummets.
Overall – I give Compliance a 2.6 bow ties out of 5. It was a movie worth watching, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a dramatic thriller to watch. Would I see it again? Probably not right away. I’d need some time to let this one settle. Watching torture films and people turning into grossly disfigured creatures is one thing. But seeing the sort of real monsters that average people can become is truly horrifying.