Compliance wades through the foggy grey area of human behaviour in an intriguing power play between authority and those who yield to command. The film is based on a series of real incidents that occurred in America. A phone call to a restaurant manager (Ann Dowd) at a fast-food restaurant by the police results in the interrogation of a young female employee, Becky (Dreama Walker). Simple questioning devolves into something sinister.
The setting within the walls of an eatery called ChickWitch is mundane. The situation is established with minutiae such as an employee dealing with a rude delivery man, a workday pep talk, a threatening bacon shortage in store supplies and awkward interactions between employees. In these moments, writer/director, Craig Zobel builds the hierarchal structure of the business though the conversations while allowing you to ease into workday.
Once you’ve clocked in at ChickWitch, Zobel slowly begins to peel back the layers as the phone rings and the cross examination begins. Dowd is excellent as the manager whose actions lead to the film’s most unsettling moments. She’s the smiling assassin of Compliance. As Becky is held like a prisoner in her own workplace and stripped of her dignity, Dowd’s character treats it like another routine task. While she indulges the strange requests of the caller it’s obvious that her character thinks she is doing to right thing and with the cold precision of Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
A series of different unassuming employees present themselves to the situation and their morals are challenged. For most of the film common sense takes a backseat and it’s alarming the way Zobel displays the ability for darkness to reveal itself in this environment. While people snack in the restaurant Becky is being abused in a store room and the silent suffering within the confines of the eatery is upsetting.
Even more disturbing is that for all the bad things that happen to Becky, she still agrees to every request. The relationship between Becky and each of her cross-examiners makes you question the trust we put in people in a position of power as well as how easily it is for that power to be exploited. Digging deeper into the situation, the relationship between Becky and her employer becomes more intriguing. Considering the troubled U.S economy, the fear of unemployment may be a factor in Becky’s actions and it’s even more potent considering the fictional ChickWitch represents a small chunk of fast-food chains part of corporate America. There is a sense of morality verses economy that is built into the film and at times Dowd’s character in particular is more concerned about what’s happening at the front of the store instead of the storeroom where Becky is; it is business as usual. Zobel dives into the psyche of the caller and the interrogators well but not deep enough with Becky and it raises a lot of questions, the primary one, why didn’t she try to escape?!? The film will put a dent in your brain thinking about it the variables. The inspiration from real events nags in the back of your mind because it easily excuses why people would act the way they do.
Compliance is a film that appears to be calm on the surface but the subtext is ferocious with the shocking way people succumb to savage impulses when people in positions of power are morally tainted.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies
'Compliance' has a limited release in Australia 17 January 2013