Compliance is one of those films that wants to grabs you and never let you go. If it succeeds at this goal is debatable.
The film revolves around two woman, Becky and Sandra. Becky is a young plucky fast food joint employee and Sandra is the shift manager. When Sandra receives a phone call, from someone claiming to be the police, accusing Becky of stealing money from a customer she agrees to assist the authorities in their investigation.
Craig Zobel organizes the film in a mannor that for the first act is extremely effective. He builds the tension nicely, he sets up the characters and their motivations deftly and efficiently. The film quickly ramps up the tension as Sandra is talked into detaining, and the eventually strip searching Becky. These scenes are almost unbearably awkward to witness.
Needless to say, a film like this is a tightrope act. You don’t have a lot of money, so bulk of the narrative is just people standing in rooms talking to each other or a telephone. It takes a master craftsman to really sell this type of movie. You need to know when to hit the tension and when to let your actors do the heavy lifting for you.
Compliance runs into some bumpy areas in the second act. The ‘police’ officer on the other end of the phone starts bringing male characters into the room where a barely clothed Becky is being held. The first character that is brought into the room immediately says, “This is wrong” and leaves. What results is a clumsy interchange where Sandra convinces her psudeo-fiance to come in and watch this girl. What ensues is one of the most disturbing scenes in the film. However, it feels extremely forced. Granted, this film is based on true events. I have no knowledge if these events depicted actually occurred but they film doesn’t handle them well. The fact that no one does anything about what is obviously not ok or appropriate is simultaneously the films point and it’s greatest undoing. I just doesn’t seem real. Even if it is. The majority of the second act feels like it’s happening because the Plot-God says it must to make the film’s expressed point work.
The film is masterful in areas, gripping in others, but eventually jumps the shark.
Ultimately, everything I just wrote is focusing on the wrong area of discussion. The fact that women in real life have had to endure treatment like this is profoundly depressing and utterly shameful. The Bystander Effect is live and well in society. People need to learn more about their rights and how to deal with authority figures.
In the age of literally limitless information maybe we should all use the internet for more than just free pornography and Facebook.