Compliance Craig Zobel

Compliance Craig Zobel
8
Craig Zobel's perfectly titled social horror film, Compliance, is quite possibly the most distressing and simplistically astute movie of the year. Based on true events, it details a busy Friday night at a fried chicken emporium (called "Chickwich," for obvious legal reasons), where a call from a police officer leads manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) to take employee Becky (Dreama Walker) to the back office for questioning. Stating that Becky has stolen money from a customer, the police officer convinces Sandra to search Becky's belongings and have her perform a strip search, understanding that her regional manager has okayed all of this from behind the scenes. Now, from an objective point of view, the flaws in police rationale and overall legalities seem overwhelming. But Compliance is a tricky and deceptively observant beast, matching Sandra's concern about fulfilling her managerial roles with the sly emotional rollercoaster the policeman subjects her to, threatening action if she doesn't comply, when not stepping back to validate her good behaviour when she obeys. Becky's initially incredulous disposition is gradually worn down to that of a defeated victim, just agreeing to whatever is thrown her way in the hope that it will make everything end quickly without any negative repercussions. Both actresses sell their respective characters in a way that makes this (mostly) single-location thriller compelling from beginning to end. Sandra's insecurities and tendency to act on flattery are as viable as Becky's youthful terror and ingrained need to obey authority figures, lest she suffer the consequences. But what makes Zobel's minimalist work so haunting and lasting are the broader, unspoken social implications of such a scenario. It would be easy to dismiss these people as idiots for not questioning such an unprecedented situation, but the reality is that rational concessions are made every day by every single member of functioning societies. If someone points out that a standard practice — crowding into an already full elevator, standing in a subway door, enforcing dress codes or discussing the weather, for example — is perhaps bizarre, or they refuse to partake, they're relegated to outsider pariah status rather than the party blindly adhering to the norm. Similarly, the fear instilled in the average citizen by the of threat of punishment or exclusion causes everyone to do things they know deep down are crazy, but the acknowledgement of such is in itself a target. Stepping away from the text of this extremely important and well-crafted low budget film, this tendency for people to merely comply can be superimposed over a variety of social situations and historical follies, even one that happened in late '30s Germany. Unfortunately, the DVD has only a two-minute supplement where Ann Dowd briefly states the theme of the film to the camera, which is a shame, since it would be fascinating to know more about what went into researching and writing this film. (eOne)