Title: Compliance (2012)
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Craig Zobel
Compliance is a film that you might want to turn off at multiple points, finding it too ridiculous and unbelievable to work. That was the case with me. There comes a point in the movie where it just gets too much. I literally laughed out loud, and said “no way; it’s not possible”. I quickly picked up my laptop and did a search.
The results are more terrifying and disturbing than the movie itself.
Compliance is based on true events, as revealed by the movie at the very start (with giant, full screen lettering so that no one can miss it). What’s more shocking is that the events in this movie are not a singular moment of bad decision making, but rather just one of over 60 other events just like it, each with their own brutal and messed up story to tell.
What is this story, you might ask? Let me explain.
Compliance tells the story of a fast food manager, and her quest to do what she believes is right. On a busy Friday afternoon, she gets called back to her office to take a phone call from a police officer. The man on the other end introduces himself as Officer Daniels, and proceeds to tell her that one of her employees has been accused of stealing money from a customer’s purse. He claims to have surveillance on her that corroborates the claim. He perfectly describes the girl’s appearance, and asks the store manager to bring Becky to the back for questioning.
The questioning quickly turns into something much more degrading, and much more sinister as the film progresses. This is one where even seeing isn’t believing. Not for me, at least. I watched the movie, found it all to be too over-the-top (no one would ever let this happen, I thought), and then proceeded to read a long, 17-page article on the true story that this was based (the movie goes almost fact-by-fact to the real incident), and then felt sick. Felt sick that we live in a world where someone could be so easily manipulated to commit such atrocious and bizarre acts simply because they are told to “follow orders”.
Then I started to read about the Milgram Experiments, and remembered watching a documentary on this very thing a couple of years ago. I won’t go in to detail here, but it is really a fascinating social experiment that reveals a lot about the human psyche. Definitely worth reading up on if this sort of thing interests you at all.
Sure, I could talk about the way this film is structured and paced – quite well; the action takes off right from the get-go, and the slow burn to the climax is as uncomfortable as it should be – or how incredibly well acted the entire movie is, from the leads, to the random fast food employees. I could even mention how smartly Compliance is directed, showing just enough to make the viewer feel sick, but not too much to make them turn it off.
Compliance is so much more than that, though, as evidenced by the hour-long research session I completed after viewing the film. It’s a warning. It’s an eye-opener. It shows us just how far humans are willing to go to appease the “powerful” amongst us. The gut reaction to this will surely be “I would never allow this to happen”, and that was mine as well, and one I truly believe. But, take some time and read up on the real case, as well as the Milgram Experiments, and let this movie sink in before you’re so quick to make judgements.
You may be surprised at what Compliance can teach you.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.
“Compliance is so much more than that, though, as evidenced by the hour-long research session I completed after viewing the film. It’s a warning.”
Yes. Exactly. That is precisely how I felt about this movie. It can DEFINITELY teach all of us a thing or two.
Thanks so much, Alex! I’m glad you felt the same way. Such an effective film.