'Compliance': Following prankster's orders turns creepy, unsettling
A movie review of "Compliance," a claustrophobic and vastly unsettling drama in which ordinary people in ordinary settings are psychologically manipulated by a sick prankster to engage in behaviors so egregious that his victims can scarcely believe they're doing them. Yet they do them anyway.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Compliance,' with Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy. Written and directed by Craig Zobel. 90 minutes. Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity. Varsity.
A voice on the phone turns strangers into puppets in "Compliance."
The voice is authoritative. Insistent. Persistent. Demanding. Commanding. It won't take no for an answer.
The voice on the phone claims it's the voice of a cop. It's not.
But the voice exerts such a hold on the people who hear it that they do things that are against their better natures. Outrageous things. Degrading things. Things, though, that are not unbelievable.
Inspired by actual incidents, writer-director Craig Zobel has crafted a claustrophobic and vastly unsettling drama in which ordinary people in ordinary settings are psychologically manipulated by a sick prankster to engage in behaviors so egregious that his victims can scarcely believe they're doing them. Yet they do them anyway.
The setting is a fast-food restaurant. More specifically, and most of the time, the setting is a back office in the place. In that claustrophobic space, the manager (Ann Dowd) takes a call from a man (Pat Healy) who claims he's a cop and accuses a teenage employee (Dreama Walker) of stealing money out of a customer's purse.
The man instructs the manager to interrogate the girl until officers arrive on the scene (which they never do). The girl insists she's innocent. The manager is doubtful. The voice bores in, instilling fear in the girl by threatening her with jail, and commanding obedience from the manager through unrelenting insistence that she follow his instructions. The instructions escalate to a demand that the girl be strip-searched and worse.
The movie's power — and it's an extraordinarily powerful picture — comes from the fact that it makes wholly believable the slippery-slope nature of the victimization of these two ordinary women; how their compliance with the caller's initial demands makes them his prisoners, helpless to disobey his escalating instructions.
One watches in horrified fascination, and a greater horror comes when one realizes that, placed in the same kind of situation, one might react in the same way.
Soren Andersen: email@example.com