out of Five
Running time: 90
Impressively directed and superbly acted, this is a gripping and disturbing thriller, made all the more horrific by the knowledge that this actually happened over 70 times.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Craig Zobel, Compliance is based on a bizarre true story and stars Ann Dowd as Sandra, the middle-aged manager of a fast food joint, who receives a call from someone purporting to be a police officer (Pat Healy), accusing one of her teenage employees (Dreama Walker as Becky) of having stolen money from a customer.
Sandra duly complies with the officer's request and detains Becky, ostensibly until the police arrive, but the officer's demands become increasingly inappropriate and events take an extremely dark turn.
Ann Dowd is superb as Sandra, an obviously kind-hearted (if perhaps a little credulous) person who's just trying to do what she thinks is the right thing, while Dreama Walker is equally good in a demanding role that requires her to spend most of the film wearing just an apron, after her character is strip-searched. Similarly, Pat Healy is excellent as ‘Officer Daniels’ (the film shows its hand early on, revealing his character to be in his own home instead of where he says he is) and the punchline of what his actual day-job turns out to be provides a final cruel twist.
The script does a convincing job of suggesting exactly why the prank works in the early stages – ‘Daniels’ has the name of Sandra's area manager and she's already stressed out due to various other in-store incidents, while the initial strip-search is presented as an alternative to Becky spending the night in jail and is performed with another female employee (Ashlie Atkinson as Marti) present. It's only after that things become much darker and more controversial, with the film raising the concept of brainwashing (suggested by a TV interviewer in a real-life interview that takes place after the events of the film).
Zobel maintains a gripping and suspenseful atmosphere throughout, cranking up the tension as we continually hope that one of the other employees will realise something's not quite right. There are, understandably, several moments where you wonder just why everyone went along with the officer's demands, which only makes the film more disturbing when you discover, not just that this exact case actually happened, but that similar events happened over 70 times (the actual outcome of the real-life case, not mentioned by the film, is even more upsetting).
If the film has a flaw it's only that, having kept the audience in on every element of the prank call, it holds off from the most horrific moment, which feels like a bit of a cop-out.
Superbly directed and featuring a trio of terrific performances from Dowd, Walker and Healy, Compliance is a gripping and disturbing thriller that's guaranteed to provoke several hours of post-film pub-based argument. Highly recommended.