Inspired by real events, Compliance tells the disturbing story of just how far people would go if they believed they were cooperating with law enforcement.
In 2004, a McDonald's manager received a call that from a man claiming to be a police officer, who said that one of the store's female employees had stolen a purse from a customer. Over the next few hours the manager and others followed the man's directions, which lead to, among other things, a strip search and sexual assault of the accused woman.
Not an isolated instance, this man had made 70 such calls over a 10-year period before finally being arrested and found to be a Florida prison guard.
This unnerving true story is the foundation for Compliance. With a story where fact is much harder to believe than fiction, filmmaker Crig Zobel (best known for his Sundance hit Great World of Sound) smartly grounds the story as much as possible.
As the film progresses, it delicately tows the line of believability. The excellent cast goes a long way to keep the audience engaged, although I found myself wanting to scream towards the end at the complete lack of common sense exhibited by the characters. How could not just one person, but a group of people, all follow so blindly without digging more into the caller's identity?
This of course is one of the fundamental questions of the film, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier to watch.
Despite its brief 90 minute run time, Compliance feels long. While a short film would not do the story justice, a full length feature stretches the concept to its breaking point. My stomach churning the whole time, I eventually mentally clocked out of the movie about 15 to 20 minutes from the end, at which point my willingness to extend disbelief ceased. Enough was enough.
This frustration was I'm sure the intention of the filmmaker, but it does little to appease the audience. Compliance nearly pulls it off, but with the truth behind the story being so difficult to believe, it's impossible to recreate what happened without losing the audience along the way.
An intriguing and controversial film to say the least, there is no doubt that Compliance will take you on an unsettling emotional journey. I just don't suspect it will be a journey I will take twice.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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