Compliance Directed by Craig Zobel
Written by Craig Zobel
Starring Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger
Rated R | 90 Minutes
Release Date: August 17, 2012
At a suburban Ohio fast food joint, neurotic manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) gets a phone call from Officer Daniels (Pat Healy), a policeman who has received a complaint that one of Sandra’s employees has stolen money from a customer’s purse.
Officer Daniels explains that the police are preoccupied with a search of the suspect’s home and the possible connection to a larger investigation. With Daniels on the phone, Sandra agrees to help and escorts 19-year-old Becky (Dreama Walker), who fits the officer’s description of the perpetrator, into her office.
Becky denies committing the crime, but Sandra commences the investigation, following step-by-step instructions from Daniels, no matter how invasive they become. Daniels instructs the manager to strip search Becky in an attempt to find the stolen money, the first in a series of questionable directives given from Daniels that only get more and more bizarre.
Director Craig Zobel‘s Compliance is perhaps the most upsetting, disturbing film of the year. Inspired by true events, the film examines how far an average citizen will go to obey authority – and the cost of blindly following those who wield power.
Compliance is the second feature film from Zobel, best known for his 2007 Sundance hit film, Great World of Sound, as well as being one of the two founders of Homestar Runner. It’s hard to believe one of the guys behind Strong Bad’s Email could make such a riveting, appalling film.
At the world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Compliance was met with quite a bit of controversy, as the audience’s response to the 90-minute film included several walkouts and shouting matches during the film’s Q & A session. Since then, the film screened at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival and went on to receive a limited theatrical release.
Compliance is not an easy film to watch, because it shows our natural inclination to follow the rules, to obey authority, to remain blissfully ignorant. It portrays humans as the cruel, often oblivious, always vulnerable creatures we are – and it manages to shock and horrify without buckets of blood or joint-popping demonic possessions.
The scariest part of Zobel’s film is that it really happened – and it could easily happen again – anywhere, at anytime. In fact, there have been 70 such occurrences of this kind of over-the-phone strip search examination reported in 30 U.S. states.
Beyond being a compelling true story, Compliance boasts terrific performances by Dowd, Healy, and newcomer Walker. Dreama Walker’s Becky is internalized, withdrawn, a terrified girl in an office forced to do things that seem pointless and completely illegal – but she continues to comply. She continues to comply, as does Dowd’s Sandra, because she thinks that if she plays by the rules, she can get out of this situation.
But she can’t. She won’t. Officer Daniels (Healy) continues to push the limits of his power, seemingly brainwashing Sandra and even her fiancé, Van (Bill Camp), who drops by for a visit, to carry out these nonsensical requests and humiliate Becky further.
Compliance is a powerful reminder of how a mindless act can upset the established order and have emotionally-scarring, traumatic effects on those under the influence of authority. Check out the trailer below: