Compliance(2012) Review

Almost sexual poster giving you no idea what the movie's about. This is not Nymphomaniac part 3.

Almost sexual poster giving you no idea what the movie’s about. This is not Nymphomaniac part 3.

Horror films have become stuck in a specific mindset. The idea that horror must be an exclusive list of certain things. The idea that horror must be violent, or bloody, or disturbing. The industry has become stagnant with unimpressive to downright awful slasher pics and over the top torture porn. That said, I just watched a film that completely challenges those ideas and succeeds greatly.
Some people might argue with me that Compliance isn’t a horror movie. Like I said, it isn’t that violent, and there isn’t a body count. Compliance substitutes those things with the mundane, and creates one of the scariest movies I have seen a long time.
The bare bones synopsis, to avoid spoilers, involves a police call to a fictional fast food restaurant. A woman is apparently at the police station accusing one of the employees, played by Dreama Walker, of stealing from her. Unable to get immediately to the restaurant, the caller tries to speed up the investigation by convincing the manager, played by the terrific Ann Dowd, to do things that may be against her better nature. The situation eventually spreads to more people, and the tension continues to rise.
That’s about all I can tell you about the plot without spoiling too much. Don’t read the description on Netflix if you decide to watch, as it gives away a very cool spoiler.
Before any actors show up on screen we’re given the words “based on true events”. This works with the opening scenes which display a semi-normal day at this job. Ann Dowd argues with a supply truck guy, Dreama Walker talks with another manager about her relationship troubles, and people are late, etc. You are given a fell about how this restaurant usually works, and a better understanding of the consequences when the call comes in. As you watch the scenes unfold in front of you, you can’t help but question what you would do in this situation. And even though I do believe that I wouldn’t have made the same choices as most of the characters, the events that lead up to the shocking conclusion are so believable in their execution. Most of the characters aren’t bad people, just stuck in a situation with circumstances they’re not used to.
The film mentions Stanley Milgram, a psychologist who did similar experiments testing how far the respect or fear of authority goes, and it captures the ideas from that study very well. Compliance is an exploration of how far someone will go to please authority, and how far someone can go with it, as well as how people can hide behind it.
The two actors who really merit mention are Ann Dowd as Sandra the manager, and Pat Healy as Officer Daniels. I first really noticed Dowd in the terrific The Leftovers. She manages to play Sandra as a woman who is very human. Both in the good and the bad things her character does. Every action is not without motive. Healy brings to mind Kiefer Sutherland in Phone Booth as he gives his performance almost completely through the phone. His voice sounds friendly yet manipulative as the convincingly persuades the other characters in the film to escalate the situation farther and farther. The rest of the cast does a good job with the exception of a few minor characters who have too little screen time to make a difference.
Compliance is a very disturbing film, and is likely to upset many people like it reportedly did at the Sundance film festival. It’s a film that really forces you to put yourself in its situation and question what you would do. If you want a great psychological thriller that will scare you, and make you rethink answering the phone, I highly recommend Compliance.


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