Craig Zobel‘s Compliance is one of the most divisive films I’ve seen in the past decade. I mean that as a compliment of the highest form. For as much as I love standard, likable crowd pleasers, I tend to enjoy more the bleak and dreary. At least I remember them more, and trust me when I say that you won’t easily forget Compliance. Immediately after it’s over, you will want to discuss it with someone. Either you want to bitch about its vile, voyeuristic approach, and its aimlessness…or you want to praise it for the exact same reasons. The film takes on a new level in the eye of the beholder.
The story is based on a reported 70+ prank calls by those claiming to be police. In this specific case, “officer” Daniels on the other end of the line manipulates Sandra, a fast food restaurant owner, into believing that one of her employees, Becky, stole money from a patron. The police are on the way, by way of Becky’s house. Rather than spend the time going through the formal motions of such an incident downtown, Daniels urges Sandra to go through the process in the back room of the restaurant, interrogating Becky and having her strip down to nothing. Once Sandra has to leave the office, she has someone else keep watch over her and stay on the phone until the police arrive. This is when Daniels makes things…more interesting.
This is a tough watch and a disturbing one at that. One is left wondering what exactly Zobel is trying to tell us. He makes it clear that this is a fake call within 20 minutes or so; this isn’t Scream, or some sort of revelatory twist. Pat Healy (The Innkeepers) plays Daniels, and we get to watch his pleasure while he’s orchestrating this, which changes things. He could have easily been the mystery voice on the line, but by the time he’s asking someone to “punish” Becky for being insubordinate, the illusion that this is an actual authority figure, for all rational purposes, is out the window. We have trouble believing that these people could be so gullible and stupid. But they’re actually not stupid; they’re reliant on safety. They’re compliant with the law. To a fault. And this is what Zobel’s saying. The idea that we can be manipulated and controlled by just the THOUGHT of authority.
This is a well acted piece, aptly “raw” and “natural” acting. But none more interesting than Healy himself; a “look, it’s THAT guy!” actor. I first took real notice of him with Zobel’s fantastic first feature, 2007’s Great World of Sound. Sound is a dramatic comedy and is radically different from Compliance, but Zobel handles the direction in a pseudo-documentary style with both features with Healy being fantastic in both. It’d be a nice double feature, one that gets more depressing and dreary as it goes on. I highly endorse Compliance on it’s own, too. This is a fascinating “dare you to watch this” feature, just to see how someone will react to it. Screenings have been full of walk outs and post-feature discussions and arguments. That, to me, is the definition of a must see.