Sunday, 14 September 2014


Title: Compliance
Director: Craig Zobel
Released: 2012
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Phillip Ettinger, James McCaffrey, Ashlie Atkinson

Plot: When a prank caller (Healy) claiming to be a police officer investigating a theft at a fast food restaurant, the manager Sandra (Dowd) is convinced to interrogate one of her employees Becky (Walker) as the caller gives instructions over the phone.

Review: Based on the real life events of April 9, 2004 when a prank caller managed to convince the manger of a McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky that they were a police officer. At the same time the film also references the controversial Milgram experiment carried out by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram and which was designed to look at participant’s willingness to obey an authority figure instructing them to perform acts which would conflict with the personal conscience, which Milgram achieved by asking participants to administer electric shocks of increasing voltage to another subject every time they made a mistake. What they didn’t know was that the person who they were supposedly shocking was an actor and not actually receiving any of the shocks the participant was lead to believe they were giving.

Like its inspiration this film proved to be non the less controversial with its premier at Sundance being greeted with Walkouts and shouting matches erupting during the Q&A session though since its release it has pretty much sunk under the radar, which is surprising as normally if anything is guaranteed to help the promotion of your film its controversy.

An intriguing plot made even more so because of the real world elements being a lot truer than the majority of so called movies “Inspired by real life events”, it is also a fascinating look at how different people respond to orders given by those in position of authority and while the film might centre around the situation that Sandra and Becky find themselves in, the real focus here is on how Sandra is manipulated and what she is willing to take as standard protocol based on nothing but the fact that she assumes she is being given the correct advice by a police officer.

Interestingly director Zobel has followed the events of the case in question remarkably closely, while at the same time bringing in other characters into the twisted games of the caller and perhaps in a way linking the events even more to the Milgram experiment as he shows how different staff members react to the orders being given, with some proving to be unquestionably compliant while Sandra’s friend Kevin (Ettinger) aggressively refuses to take part. Equally at the same time there is a curiosity about how far the caller will take things, which for those of you familiar with the case will come as no surprise while providing grim shocks for the rest of us.

Shot on a shoe string budget Zobel works around his limitations by keeping the majority of the film within the confines of the restaurant back office which helps add to the tension, only breaking away to show the caller as he works through his plan or to show one of the numerous hallway conversations between the staff regarding the escalating situation, which helps reassure us that they aren’t all of the same mind set and furthering reinforcing the different mind sets regarding the commands they are being given by the supposed officer.

While the majority of critics have raved about Dowd’s performance as the coerced restaurant manager which earned her the National Board of Review award for for Best Supporting Actress, which for myself as the film goes on proved to be source of increasing frustration especially as she continues to agree to the ever more invasive requests, even recruiting her own boyfriend Van (Camp) to watch Becky which only leading to some of the more shocking moments of the film. For myself the real standout here is Dreama Walker who while no doubt best known for her comedic talents in the sitcom “Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23” really proves her dramatic abilities here, which equally taking on no doubt one of her most challenging roles to date. More so when you look at what she is forced to endure over the course of the film and while also spending the majority of the film naked bar an apron, but this is in no way fun nudity.

My main gripe with this film though is the caller. Mainly because there is never any clear reason given for why he chooses to do what he does. Clearly it’s not for sexual satisfaction, while his meticulous note taking he makes over the course of the call only hints at a greater obsession which is frustratingly never explored further, with Zobel seemingly happy to just give us the fact and leave us to draw our own conclusions.

While it is a fascinating case which Zobel has chosen to highlight it is really a no thrills style which he chooses to shoot it in, while his focus purely on the events as they played out, with only a passing glance paid to the actual investigation and aftermath the film ends feels as if something is lacking, while the grim later portions combined with the lacking areas highlighted, especially in terms of the psychology of the caller means that it doesn’t stand up to repeat viewings. Still for those with any interest in the true case its worth giving a watch.


  1. Compliance was really fascinating to me - I think I watched it about four times after I found it on Netflix. The events of the film might seem a bit too dramatic and far-fetched, but like you said, the director did follow the actual events almost exactly, which makes the whole thing even more shocking.

    I don't think the caller's motives were that unclear - some people like to just fuck with people and test their boundaries of power and role-playing. The caller was obviously just psychotically amused by the whole thing (notice the one part of him giggling like a girl at the person's response to his request).

    Again, really fascinating movie. Did not deserve all the flack it got.

    1. I guess your right, perhaps I was just looking for a deeper reason for the callers actions than the one we got.


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