Compliance (2012)

The best anti-fast-food flick in the past decade, ever since Super Size Me.

The film focuses on a mysterious caller (Patrick Healy) who says to be a police officer and convinces the manager of a fast food restaurant (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) committed a crime.

See that poor plot description up there? Doesn’t seem to interesting, does it? Well if there’s anything to spice that whole thang up it’s probably to say that this is all based on a true story. And trust me, that line is no gimmick, this really happened not once, not twice, not three times, hell not even 20 times, over 70 times in 30 other countries. And just when you thought fast-food didn’t get a bad-wrap already.

Writer/director Craig Zobel really kicks some ass with this flick as he starts it all off perfectly, with just the right amount of underlining tension to where we feel like any second now, something bad is going to start happening. You know that going into the flick, so there’s not much of a surprise when some weird things start to happen, but what’s worse is that we never know if or when they are ever going to end. You almost feel like this whole situation has gone from bad to worse in a matter of 10 minutes and it almost seems like nobody, not a single person can stop it. It’s almost like a horror movie in a way to where you feel all trapped and composed to this one dire situation that you can’t get out of, no matter how hard you try and all you have to do there is sit and watch as it all goes down. It’s a dark drama, that plays on it’s thrills as if it was an old-school horror film that shows very little, but still scares the absolute jeebers out of you.

However, calling this flick a piece of horror would be terribly wrong because Zobel has made something that will probably be discussion-worthy, long after the initial first-viewing. Zobel isn’t just showing us how a certain situation went from bad to worse in a period of 4 hours, he’s showing us how humans minds think when they are simply told something. If I told you that I was a military sergeant for my day job and was able to back it up with tons and tons of valuable information, 9 times out of 10 you would probably believe me. I mean here I am, typing all of this down into a review but you don’t know who I am, nor have you ever seen me in real-life so you probably wouldn’t know.

Everything that I just talked about up there is exactly what happens here and what’s even worse is how these people respond to one dude, simply calling in and saying that he’s an officer of the law. What’s bad at first is that these people actually believe this guy in the first-place, but what’s even worse is that some of them actually go along with some of the insane and terrible stuff that he tells them to do just to further on a situation. It goes to show you that anybody, no matter who it may be, will usually take one person’s opinion over the other, once they say that they are a person of great power and dominance and that they are able to back it up with some believable information. Everybody is gullible and that’s fine because that’s just the way human nature is most of the time, so it was no surprise that I was getting so, so damn pissed at half of these people by the stupid stuff they decided to go along with but then again I thought to myself, what would I have done in the same situation? It’s a hard piece to get through one’s head and I think Zobel conveys that perfectly by not only focusing on the situation at-hand, but the psychosis of the people actually involved with it.

The script, by all means, is just about as perfect as you can get it but there seemed to be something lacking in his direction. One of the biggest problems I had with this flick was half-way through the middle when Zobel decided to show “the mysterious caller” off to the audience as we watch him parade around his house, sometimes making a sandwich or just writing weird shit down to remember from the phone calls. I’m of the opinion that what you don’t see, is probably a lot scarier than what you do see so my imagination could have really been running wild if I never saw what this guy looked like, what he was doing, and how he was going about these phone-calls. Just the guy’s voice was creepy enough and I think that’s all we really needed. Sort of like the same thing about Kiefer Sutherland in Phone Booth, but instead, we rarely see that guy in that movie.

Another problem I seemed to have had with this flick was that I feel like Zobel tried too hard to add tension onto some scenes that didn’t really need that extra level of style. A score would sometimes randomly kick in, the camera would cut-away to any of the grueling stuff that takes place, and the film seems to get a bit too jittery at points, especially by the end. If Zobel just relaxed with this material and the way he showed it all off, there would have most likely been just as much tension, if not more, of what there was to originally work with here. Then again, maybe that’s why I’m not a director and I sit on here all day talking shit on these other ones.

Despite these problems, you still can’t get over the performances for this flick as they are as natural as you’re going to get for the longest time from a huge list of unknowns. Dreama Walker has the toughest role in this whole flick and absolutely nails it by displaying plenty of rays of emotion that will make you feel for her character, but also realize the desperation in her character as well. The girl has to do some pretty sick things (without giving too much away) and I think Zobel found the right beauty-queen for it as those eyes just made me feel like I was a watching somebody on the verge of breaking down for good.

The highlight of this whole cast, and probably the whole movie if I dare to go there, is Ann Dowd as the restaurant manager, Sandra. Right from the start, we can see that this character is a complicated one, but also one that we may be able to stick to because of the certain layers she has to her. She seems very sad, as if she always got pushed around her life, but is now having her own time to shine and be the boss, but still wants to be cool with everybody and relate in the only ways she can. It’s sort of depressing to watch for the first 7 minutes or so because you can tell that this gal has a deep sadness to here, but also wants to prove herself right and still be treated by others with love and respect. So, that’s why when she is actually treated and manipulated into feeling like that person, Sandra relishes in it and that’s why Dowd is so great here.

There are so many layers to this character that Dowd is able to explore as we see her be sad, be mad, be glad, be happy, and be upset that she has no effin’ clue as to what the hell is going on. There are so many times where I wanted to punch this character in the face because she can, and does do, some stupid things that aren’t worth praising but you never fully lose interest or faith in Dowd, or her character. You also feel like if you were put in the same situation, you may act just like her in a way and just do what you think is right because of what you think you hear is true. There’s a whole bunch of Oscar-talk going around for Dowd and her work here and I think it’s deserved as the girl proves that she is more than just another character actress, she can own a film just like anyone else and is ready to break-out. If that is still a possibility with her long-lasting career.

Consensus: Though it gets a bit light on the whole tension aspect by the end, Compliance is still a smartly-written and expertly-acted real-life mystery thriller, that feels like it has the rhythm of a horror movie but plays to the beat of an honest, human-drama that shows the way us human-beings think.



  1. I saw a news program (Dateline or 20/20, one of those types) about one of these incidents — most likely the one that inspired this movie, if I had to guess. It was just mind-boggling to me that people went along with this for even one second. Maybe it’s because I have law enforcement in my family background, but I couldn’t fathom why people didn’t realize that no police officer is going to call over the phone to have you detain an employee. The managers wound up getting arrested themselves, for their compliance, and convicted — and deservedly so, in my opinion.

    I suspect this is a film that I’ll wind up skipping. Seeing the story of the real thing was dark enough. Solid review, though, Dan.

    • That’s what I said! I always remember that line in Michael Clayton where he says, “Cop’s don’t call”. And that’s the truth and that’s why these dumb-asses really did deserve all that came to them. But it’s also very understandable as to why they would go along with it in the first-place.

  2. i just did my review of this as well, and i have to say i found the film very frustrating as i wanted to jump into the scene and knock some sense into the people involved….cant believe it took so long for them to realise it was a hoax. A very disturbing film to say the least.

    • It pissed me off too, but I think with good reason. They just did so many stupid and asinine things that I think they deserved what came to them. Except the rape thing. That’s not cool.

      • I’m currently watching PTA’s Magnolia and just realised the pharmacist that sells the strong medication to Juliane Moore, is the hoax caller in Compliance.

  3. Just watched this one over the weekend. A really intense movie that is very scary when you find out how easily people will follow orders. I agree with you seeing the prank caller early on did take away a lot of the fear the movie first had. He should have been shown much later on. Very nice review.

  4. I’ve heard this one is very difficult and painful to watch, so Zobel must do a good job of building up tension. That’s annoying that he reveals the caller though. I agree that showing him lessens his impact. It’s creepier never to meet him.

  5. It was disturbing for sure Dan. Thanks for checking my review and conmenting. Boy you’ve been writing almost daily, I’m so backlogged. Back to the movie, I wanted to yell at people who were laughing during this. I gather they were laughing at the stupidity of the people but they shouldn’t be laughwd at she should be consoled for the way they were being brainwashed. This unwavering belief in authority was the scariest thing. Eccellent review Dan.

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