. Production year: 2012
. Country: USA
. Cert (UK): 15
. Runtime: 90 mins
. Directors: Craig Zobel
. Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
When a film is based on true events it often has a tenuous grip on reality. Plotlines are embellished to add tension to what would otherwise be a straightforward narrative. This has become such a standard practice in the film industry that in the case of Argo, the truth is seen as that unimportant it doesn’t prevent an Oscar victory. Compliance is refreshing, as it never strays far from actuality, because the absurdity of the story doesn’t need any enhancement.
For a period of ten years from the mid-Nineties a hoax caller posing as a police officer targeted fast food restaurants in rural America, persuading staff to perform various tasks for his own perverse pleasure. Compliance tells the story of the most successful of these hoaxes that occurred in Ohio in 2004.
Sandra (played by the excellent Ann Dowd) is the middle-aged, harassed, manager of ChickWich, struggling to gain authority over her young, uninterested staff, one of which is the blonde and pretty, Becky (Dreama Walker). At the beginning of a shift Sandra receives the hoax call informing her that a customer has complained of a theft and Becky is the only suspect.
It is from this point that Sandra becomes compliant to all the demands from the fake officer, with Becky the hopeless victim. The desires of the hoax caller start off tame and then over the course of the three and a half hour ordeal, get increasingly sadistic.
The attractiveness and vulnerability of Becky could have lead to some directors taking advantage, in order to produce a gruesome and exploitative film. It is credit to Craig Zobel that exactly what does happen to Becky is conveyed in a subtle way, meaning that we are completely aware but do not end up feeling like voyeurs ourselves.
In Zobel’s hands Compliance becomes a terrifying, unusual and absorbing film, which uses the fast food industry - where the nature of the work is repetitive, unthinking and unquestioned - as a backdrop to examine how society is reluctant to challenge authority.END