Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger, James McCaffrey, Matt Servitto and Ashlie Atkinson
Not many movies out there solely exist to examine human nature in its most diabolical and haunting form. Most movies want to deliver a good story with interesting characters, but a movie like “Compliance” comes once in a decade. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie like “Compliance” that had me squirming in my seat while I wanted so badly to yell at the screen. Yes, “Compliance” is a horror movie only it’s not interested in giving audiences gore, blood or even thrills, it wants you to think about why what we’re watching is so horrific.
The premise of “Compliance” is simple. A busy day at a fast food restaurant is interrupted by a call from a police officer telling the manager that one of their employees is suspected of theft. That’s it! Those are all of the plot elements of “Compliance.” But what is so interesting is watching how this mysterious phone call devolves into unbelievable actions and behavior. What is more haunting about “Compliance” is it’s based on true events, which gives the narrative more weight and terror to the audience watching it.
Every moment in “Compliance” is so masterfully put together, that it’s hard to believe this is filmmaker Craig Zobel’s second feature film. He has a great understanding of creating a tone and theme early on, and moreover keeping those ideas and feelings consistent throughout the narrative, no matter how over the top or unbelievable, Zobel keeps everything grounded by its tone.
The performances of this film were so true to life and brutal, much of which come from the manager of the fast food restaurant, Sandra (Ann Dowd) and Officer Daniels (Pat Healy). A majority of the film is held by a single phone call between these two, and yet it is always interesting, engaging and repulsive. Every minute of “Compliance” is a look into decisions, courtesy and authority, and pushes the bounds of what humans are capable of doing to each other.
I was reluctant to like this film at all. The filmmaking is so top tier that I couldn’t help but respect what the filmmaker was trying to do with this narrative. This is a very hard movie to watch. It’s challenging! No matter how much I resisted, I had to believe I was put in good hands. As the movie unfolded, it felt like the filmmaker was challenging the audience to stay in their seats but no catharsis would come until the very end. It ends with such a bittersweet note, not in a question but in a moment. A moment that is small but consistent with the themes of the film. It was poignant.
Make no mistake about it, “Compliance” is a horror film but instead of blood and gore, it is replaced with words and trust. After watching this movie, I’m not sure which one is more scary. It is also an example of how a horror movie can be high art. I think you can agree, after watching “Compliance” you’ll never feel the same again.