VOD film review: Compliance
James R | On 20, Aug 2013
Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
Watch Compliance online in the UK: MUBI UK / Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
In 1963, Milgram shocked the word with an experiment that proved humans would do horrible things to each other if they thought they were simply following orders. That would never happen to me, people cried. I would just say no. But in recent years, something happened in a fast food restaurant that proved just how right Milgram was – and director Craig Zobel has turned it into a stomach-churning piece of cinema.
Sandra (Dowd) is halfway through the busy Friday shift at ChickWich when she gets a phone call from Officer Daniels (Healy). It turns out that employee Becky (Walker) has stolen money from a customer and the police are on their way. Until they arrive, she needs to be detained in a room. Alone.
Sounds dodgy? It is. But Healy’s policeman is persistent and persuasive, upping the ante by targeting different people with his abusive demands. Sure enough, things go from weird to wrong to traumatic. Zodel takes him time, though, gradually stepping up the horror. First, it’s a rummage through the pockets, then, the purse, and things get more disturbing from there.
Cutting between the counters full of discarded fried food and the stark storeroom where Becky is held, Compliance builds up a seedy, nasty look that lends the whole thing an exploitative air. But Zodel frequently averts our gaze from her discomfort. In fact, we spend more time focusing on Sandra’s psychological torment than that of her prisoner. The question throughout is: “How the hell is this possible?”
Dreama Walker’s middle manager helps provide the answer. Struggling to deal with the customers and the cop on the phone, she plays up her vulnerability without being too weak. She questions, but Healy’s polite policeman keeps coming up with answers. The result is horrific to watch.
Ann Dowd’s wide-eyed terror becomes painful to witness before the first 60 minutes are up. The final third is unbearable – hammered home by a shocking statistic at the end. Should Compliance be shorter to make it an easier watch? Perhaps. But Zodel’s slow-burn reconstruction is gruesomely gripping. Every time you look away, the improvised dialogue and low-key setting are nasty reminders that not only is this disturbingly plausible, but it’s also true. It’s Milgram for the McDonald’s generation. Your stomach won’t recover for hours.