By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Russell, a wilderness explorer 70 years younger, inadvertently becomes a stowaway.
At a fast food restaurant, the manager, Sandra, is having a bad day. Suddenly, she gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer who has a complaint that one of her young female employees has stolen from a customer. At the orders of this authoritative sounding stranger, Sandra takes the apparent accused, Becky, to a back room to search her before she is picked up. Once there, the phone scammer manipulates the gullible personnel into participating in Becky's sexual humiliation that grows more twisted with every new sucker on the phone. Only when one final person has the conscience to revolt do they realize the crime they were tricked into, which the real police are hard pressed to solve. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Imagine you're an employee at the local fast food joint, who is spry, young, and just simply trying to make some cash to afford your dreams, whatever they may be. It's Friday, your busiest day, your boss is already edgy and upset because she understaffed and over $15,000 of food went bad the night before because someone left the freezer door open, and all you look forward to is a long listless weekend of relaxation. But for now, you have to tell your hungry, impatient customers that the supply of bacon and pickles is low, and you must deal with the normal, everyday order of the paying customer.
Then the phone rings and your boss answers it. It's a man claiming to be a police officer who says that they have surveillance video and a person here claiming that you stole money out of a customer's purse when they were not looking. Your boss calls you to the backroom, where you speak to the officer, and are treated like a true felon, though there is no evidence presented. The officer claims to have your general manager on the phone, and is instructing your boss to search your clothes, your purse, and every belonging you have. The requests to prove your guilty involves you to be strip-searched completely, and continues with more and more questionable procedures and more and more victims are involved as time goes on. It turns out the person on the other line is not a police officer, but a sadistic prank caller, whose motive isn't fully explained or maybe even explainable.
One could immediately write this all of as preposterous. That it is, but the truth it is as well. Over seventy cases in thirty different U.S. states were reported of a prank phone caller portraying a police officer, offering the same sort of story, requesting the suspect be strip-searched and forced to perform a number of indecent, inhumane acts that gradually become more humanly loathsome. The accused here is Becky, played by Dreama Walker, and the manager who is taking the orders from "Officer Daniels" (Pat Healy) is Sandra, played by Ann Dowd, who gives one of the fiercest performances of the year, sure to go unrecognized by the general public.
"Officer Daniels" fools the employees due to his calm assertiveness and his reassuring voice. When we finally see who he really is, he reminded me of the main villain "Charlie" in Trust, because of his shocking normality. He often compliments those who are going along in this procedure, notably Sandra, who becomes almost so smitten with his compliments that she begins to trust him more than she does her employee of some time. Sandra herself, overwhelmed by the busyness of the restaurant (the fictional fast food chain "ChickWich"), winds up getting more and more of her employees involved including the trustworthy Marty (Ashlie Atkinson), the loudmouth Kevin (Phillip Ettinger), and even her slightly inebriated fiancée Van (Bill Camp), making her somewhat more than a victim.
Yet, before you immediately write the characters off as "stupid" and view them as faceless teenagers mirroring those in a horror movie, where every decision is questionable, what would you do? Would you have been smarter? Would you not have been distracted by the abundance of customers waiting in line and the short of employees behind the counter? Oh, how easy it would've been to just comply with authority and not risk jeopardizing your business's reputation or employees. Sandra clearly just wants to obey authority and get things sorted out as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Before criticizing her, I can not say that I blame her or I would've done any differently.
Compliance seems to reiterate the famous "Milgram experiment," performed by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960's. Milgram tested to see how willingly people obey authority and how far they will go if they felt they were doing something important or beneficial to the authority in question. Compliance does this with a growing sense of tension for almost its entire runtime, and by the end, we are numb to the core. We have emotions and a reaction, yet we do not know how to formally show them or state them. We are simply left in cold, depressing shock.
Compliance builds terror a lot like the more identifiable thriller Phone Booth, and uses the same device of a directionless phone call to build up the suspense and nerve-rattling uncertainty. The mystery of every phone call, especially ones involving something as serious as this, is we are oblivious to the direction they will take. Both films expertly concoct an atmosphere of unsettling proportions, and they both make great use of the characters involved in the current predicament.
Craig Zobel's direction is unflinching and powerful, because of its intimacy and consistently suspenseful tone, and the material is conservative to the idea of possible sadism and reliant heavily on the elements of naturalism and the way things build over time. Compliance is one of the rawest, tensest, most incredibly potent films of the year. It questions our ethics, but we'd have to be in the situation at hand to have the appropriate response to its question.
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Ashlie Atkinson, Bill Camp, and Phillip Ettinger. Directed by: Craig Zobel.
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