Directed by Craig Zobel
I brought a girlfriend to a screening of Compliance, and we almost broke up right after, stalking through Midtown in furious silence. It's that sinister, humiliating, demeaning, and cruel, capable of dredging up the vilest emotions in its viewers, directed both at the world around them, the people nearest them, and their deepest selves. But isn't it important that we confront such awfulness sometimes?
Very closely following a true story (memorably featured on 20/20), the movie chronicles a busy Friday shift at a fast food restaurant that derails after a "detective" calls, accusing a counter girl of stealing from a customer. The situation devolves into what's essentially one long act of sexual violence perpetrated by a group over time, led by the phony detective/prank caller (Pat Healy), as on his instructions the accused (Dreama Walker) is victimized from strip search (agonizing!) to rape (horrifying!) by her superiors and their loved ones. There's nothing titillating about how writer-director Zobel's story plays out: it's hard to watch, nauseous. (And darkly comic, as when the manager on duty, played brilliantly by Ann Dowd, notes that "corporate always wants two people for a strip search.")
But I wouldn't say it's pointless. Obviously, it's a perverse psychological study: about how readily people will obey, how easy it is for anybody to pretend to be in charge and exploit an ordinary person's fear and ignorance (and their assumption that cops are assholes) and their absurd respect for authority—and their eagerness to indulge their darkest desires under the justification of following orders. But if you'll permit me an extra reading: Compliance is also about the terrible things that happen in the backs of fast food restaurants, about the barbarity on which they're founded. We see a woman degraded in the same space where animal flesh is fried, out of sight of the customers who continue to blithely enjoy their value meals. It reminded me of that old dorm-room poster: "animal rights is a feminist issue."
Opens August 17