Compliance (Magnolia Pictures, R)

film compliance_smThere’s the faintest smack of exploitation to Compliance. To a certain extent it’s needed for the film to work—you really kind of need to see Becky naked and humiliated in a McDonald’s stock room to get the full gut punch of the movie.

 

film compliance

It’s well known that most people like to go to the movies for escapism, but there are a lot of us who like to go to depressing movies, too; I prefer the former to the latter in most cases. Presumably there are still others who like to go to the movies to get really upset. (I was like that more in my teens, but somehow seem to have grown out of it.) Too bad, because Craig Zobel’s new film Compliance, which famously caused quite a stink at its Sundance premiere this past January, is the best feel-bad movie in a while (yes, exponentially more so that last year’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which used that tagline to great effect in its first trailer).

To make matters worse, Compliance is based on a true story, and unbelievably (assuming you don’t know what happened in the case it was based on at the time you view the film), it mostly sticks to the facts. The case upon which it’s based is the incident from a Mt. Washington, Kentucky, McDonald’s back in 2004, where someone impersonating a police officer on the phone (played in the movie by Pat Healy, as quote-unquote “Officer Daniels”) convinced a female assistant manager (played in the movie by Ann Dowd as Sandra) to strip search one of her female employees (movie version: Dreama Walker, playing Becky with big eyes that suggest naiveté), because he says he has evidence that she stole some money from a customer.

Beyond how icky the subject matter is (and it gets worse), there are other mechanics in place to make you feel all the sicker. Perhaps the big one is that the movie’s great question is: If, had you been in the assistant manager’s situation, would you have done the same thing? From what I’ve encountered (I’ve seen the film with an audience twice now), most people think the McDonald’s employees were all unbelievably stupid in falling for the hoax, which may be true, but I think in a way it’s dishonest to think that there’s no way you personally would have fallen for it. The faux cop talks a good game (and apparently he did in real life, too, though no recordings exist), and when you’re a stressed-out wage slave trained to listen to authority, it doesn’t seem as impossible as it might on the surface. But no one’s going to want to admit that to themselves.

Additionally, there’s the faintest smack of exploitation to Compliance. To a certain extent it’s needed for the film to work—you really kind of need to see Becky naked and humiliated in a McDonald’s stock room to get the full gut punch of the movie. It would have been far less effective if they’d been coy about the nudity, and nothing they do show is unnecessary. Still, Walker is an up-and-coming actress in TV land (Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23), and it makes the whole already-very-uncomfortable movie that much more uncomfortable knowing it’s likely that perverts might seek the movie out just to see her naked and humiliated.

To sum up, Compliance is a film that is very unpleasant to watch by nature, but the effect is compounded by the way that writer/director Zobel implicates the audience in the proceedings. By the end of the movie, you’re going to want to see “Officer Daniels” roasted on a spit, but that’s just another resource the movie has up its sleeve to ruin your day. If you go home and research the Mt. Washington case after seeing the movie, you’ll find that the big picture is actually worse than it is depicted here. | Pete Timmermann

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply