2012, 90 minutes
Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity
In a year full of good independent films, Compliance stands out because of its frightening story and its willingness to make the audience feel as uncomfortable as possible.
A Sundance sensation, Compliance created a lot of controversy. It is unflinching, incredibly realistic, and very disturbing. It is not disturbing in the sense that there is a lot of graphic imagery, but disturbing conceptually. What people are willing to do to each other and subject others to is frightening. It is made all the more frightening when you realize that what happens in this movie could happen to you. As far-fetched as the film may appear, it isn’t.
I do not want to tell you much about Compliance because it is absolutely best going into this film with as little information as possible. What I will tell you is this: the film follows a fast food restaurant manager, Sandra (Ann Dowd), who receives a phone call informing her that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) stole money from a customer. From there, the story goes in many wild directions and lays bare scary truths about human psychology and behavior. It made me question whether I would do what the characters in the movie did if in those circumstances.
This film is based on a true story. What sets this film apart from the usual “based on a true story” movies is that it is actually completely true. During this film, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was so wild. Had this film not been based on real events, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second. That’s how crazy it is. Mid-way through, I remembered that this story is true. My stomach sank.
Director Craig Zobel could have made this film exploitative, but instead he keeps the tone low-key and grounds the film with solid performances and a great script that keeps the tension for almost the entire running time of the film. With the low-key tone and a lack of dramatic embellishing, he makes the film feel incredibly realistic. With his script, he keeps the dialogue realistic and makes sure to develop all of the main characters to avoid making them caricatures or simply little pieces of his grand scheme. Because I cared about the characters, I felt very ill and uncomfortable when things start to go very wrong.
As a film-going experience, Compliance is unbeatable. Being the lean, mean, smart thriller that it is, it (as I mentioned before) keeps the tension almost completely from start to finish. The tension is unbearable and the dread of trying to guess what horrific act will come next made me squirm in my seat. I couldn’t wait for the film to be over. But, while I couldn’t wait for the film to be over, I completely appreciated how engrossed in the movie I got. The reward of watching this movie was massive. I got to experience a film like nothing else that I had seen and I got to be completely hypnotized by a great piece of filmmaking. And that, my readers, is the biggest pleasure and reward of being a film critic.
Overall, Compliance is the most effective thriller since 2009’s masterpiece The Hurt Locker. It is suspenseful, thoughtful, and well-acted. Compliance dares to be a thriller with brains in a time when that is not commonplace.