Written and Directed by: Craig Zobel
Produced by: Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin, Lisa Muskat, Theo Sena, Craig Zobel
Cinematography by: Adam Stone
Edited by: Jane Rizzo
Original Score by: Heather McIntosh
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Phillip Ettinger, Ashlie Atkinson, Stephen Payner, Bill Camp, Amelia Fowler, Matt Servitto, Nikiya Mathis, Ralph Rodriguez, James McCaffrey, Desmin Borges, Jeffrey Grover
Synopsis: On a seemingly normal day at a small-town fast-food chain, the general manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a telephone call by a man claiming to be a police officer, claiming that one of the employees (Dreama Walker) is involved in criminal activity. The “officer” asks Sandra to help him in his investigation via telephone, but things start to descend into a realm of questionable ethics when he starts giving more outrageous demands.
I really can’t think of any nicer way to say this: this movie is disgusting.
I get what it’s trying to say, which is how some people will obey authority without question (i.e. the Milgram experiment), and it is incredibly depressing that all of the events depicted in the film actually happened. But what does the film say beyond “these people are incredibly stupid?” Nothing, really. We can’t really root for any of the characters, because they don’t have the decency to demand it. It feels like simple exploitation of a terrible event—and I mean “exploitation” in the “telling a dark story for pure shock/entertainment value at the expense of the subjects” sense, not the “explosions, boobs, and over-the-top-everything” sense.
Had Compliance been done in a documentary style with some re-enactments (by way of The Imposter or just a traditional, straight-up doc (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, a film about a similar trust in authority and the efforts people will put in to silence the dissenters, comes to mind), I think it would’ve been much more effective. But as it is, I feel more angry at the stupidity of the entire situation than I do the injustices carried out. And I wouldn’t call that a good thing.
I really have nothing to say on the matter, so I’ll leave it up to some choice quotes from my friend Brian Hollendyke’s review of the film, as he pretty much hits the nail on the head:
"…I did not feel that Compliance benefitted me as an artist or a person in any way and I saw no reason to continue watching it. Yes, its horrible what happened but I got the point before I even sat down to watch it. I can get that by looking the the subject material up on Wikipedia more effectively than by watching the film. That isn’t a good thing. The film should take my understanding of the situation and the emotions to a deeper level, not just present them….If you want my critical analysis the film is very bland looking but that was probably the correct choice for this subject matter. Acting is standard, neither bad nor good. I dislike the director’s choice to show the man on the phone’s face as it takes you out of the sequence and destroys some of the tension but I can see why he did it. There is interesting subject matter here for a film but I feel they focused so much on the realism that they didn’t try to have any deeper meaning or element that would entice me to watch the film. I don’t care for films that consist of stupid people doing stupid things. These kinds of films are generally shallow and Compliance is not one of the exceptions. It does not emotionally draw me in, does not leave me in suspense at what is going to happen, and doesn’t make me feel like I am anything other than a voyeur. If I am reduced to the position of voyeur and nothing else my inclination is to stop because I know this is wrong and I refuse to submit to this kind of treatment. I’m angry, yes, but not for the reasons that the film is going for. There is potential for this film. I’ve seen films such as Funny games that handle these elements but are much more effective with them and, as such, I enjoy the film or are at least lead to continue watching even if I don’t like it (such as Salo, which I did not like but felt a need to finish. Like my life would be improved by facing this film head on). Unfortunately, the first roughly hour and fifteen minutes of Compliance did not convince me that it was worth my time to continue on its journey."
So yeah. Screw this film.