Sometimes for a film to really have us on the edge of our seats it requires seizure inducing pyrotechnics and a budget big enough to bail out a few European countries. Other times though, all it takes is an intriguingly simple premise, a confined location and a couple of good actors. As is the case with Compliance, a small film that made a big splash at this year’s Sundance festival.
Becky is a teenager working the counter at a local chicken joint who doesn’t respect her middle-aged manager, Sarah. But when Sarah is asked telephonically, by a man claiming to be the police, to detain Becky on a charge of theft, things quickly spiral out of control.
It’s exactly this type of riveting, small scale filmmaking that Sundance is always praised for producing, and while it may not have the most mass appeal, it certainly looks intriguing to me. Dreama Walker (Gossip Girl) and Ann Dowd (Marley & Me) apparently knock this one out of the park, as their altercation gets further and further into some very dark territory, all on the instructions of a disembodied voice claiming to be in charge. I remember the true life case on which this is based, and while the trailer doesn’t quite depict it, this invasion of privacy is taken to some pretty extreme levels.
Many who’ve seen the film have describe it as leaving their “skin crawling” as you realize how far people are willing to go, how much bad stuff they will justify, solely because they’re just following orders.
The film sparked an even bigger media frenzy than just it’s critical reception at Sundance, when during a press Q&A, writer/director Craig Zobel was verbally attacked by a few audience members accusing him of misogyny and getting off on Dreama Walker’s nudity and physical and sexual abuse in the film.
Becky and Sandra aren’t the best of friends. Sandra is a middle-aged manager at a fast-food restaurant; Becky is a teenaged counter girl who really needs the job. One stressful day (too many customers and too little bacon), a man claiming to be a police officer calls, accusing Becky of stealing money from a customer’s purse, which she vehemently denies. Sandra, overwhelmed by her managerial responsibilities, complies with the officer’s orders to detain Becky. This choice begins a nightmare that tragically blurs the lines between expedience and prudence, legality and reason.
Last Updated: July 3, 2012