MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
The malevolence of fried chicken seems to have become an unlikely source of inspiration for indie filmmakers – first with that scene from Killer Joe, now followed up with this unpalatable exploration of human coercion, taking place within the backrooms of a fast food joint. Horrifically, it’s inspired by 70 real incidents that have taken place throughout the United States. Compliance is a sordid exploration into man’s passive acceptance of authority, successfully providing a drama which leaves its audience feeling genuinely nauseous. It gets you inside these specific minds and backrooms even if it suffers from limits within its screenwriting which prevent it from providing the sort of disturbingly profound insight into the human condition which it half-heartedly attempts to explore.
Without always the most convincing dialogue to work with (and more often than not it’s because things are being conveniently omitted for the sake of easing the screenplay), Ann Dowd does wonderfully as an overworked restaurant boss ‘just trying to do the right thing’. A telephone call comes in from a man alleging to be a police officer, asking her to search a junior colleague accused of stealing money. Apparently he can’t get there immediately and could really use her help. Apprehensively, she complies. Trust is gained and manipulated, sometimes to the absolute breaking point of plausibility but the deadpan drone from the other end of the line really does tighten its grip and suffocate. It’s a shame the film decides to pull back the curtain because when the man behind the voice is shown, the claustrophobic, spiraling nature of the situation that these characters have been sucked into loses some of its intensity. Meanwhile, the man exploits those on the other end to perform increasingly unthinkable acts.
The big question seems to be is it exploitative? As the pretty blonde suffers more and more abuse the film produces an unsettling feeling that you are becoming more a voyeur onto the surface of what is happening rather than into minds of the characters and when those feelings start to creep in, you have to think the film is struggling to meet its intentions.
It’s still a scary and edgy piece of psychological cinema that works dramatically to a large extent but when punches are available it isn’t quite strong enough to really execute any meaningful and lasting damage. It’s nevertheless bold and dangerous, drawing its grittiness through its performances.
Review by David Rank
Compliance is out now in the UK. Running time 90 mins.
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