Compliance

SXSW 2012 film review

Compliance

Director & Screenwriter: Craig Zobel
When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no one is left unscathed. Inspired by true events.
Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Phil Ettinger, Ashlie Atkinson, James McCaffrey

Film Synopsis (from SXSW.com)

WHO’S IT FOR?: If you like your thrillers incredibly restrained, with a very strong aftertaste.

OVERALL

Compliance is a daytime nightmare that you aren’t soon to shake off. A slow-burning thriller, this movie serves super-size questions about the power of authority with a micro concept. A large chunk of it takes place in the back room of a fast food restaurant (which is expertly shot). Conversations usually happen over the phone, and characters never handle their problems with shouting matches. And yet this movie is really, really disturbing.

Discussing the plot would be a sin against the unique experience offered by Compliance, but praise is due for three impressive performances. Ann Dowd, manager of the fast food place in question, takes her naive character to the very brink of her likability, pushing the audience to turn on her, yet become fascinated with her submission to power. Vulnerability is presented powerfully by Dreama Walker, and Pat Healy (who pulls a complete turn-around from last year’s SXSW hit The Innkeepers) makes you feel quite uncomfortable with his casual prank calling character.

Usually when movies frustrate us, it’s due to their quality. Characters do dumb things, stories take strange turns, and you just want to reach into the screen and fix the rampant stupidity that seems to be infecting everyone in Movie World. Compliance is a unique film in that it uses this factor of frustration from stupidity for the benefit of its story’s effect. As we watch the absurd events of this story play out, we can’t help but watch, even though they force us to instinctively roll in our seat, sigh loudly, or both. Aside from one or two logical lapses, this movie does an expert job of smartly portraying an event in which good-hearted people naively do what is worst. The story in Compliance infuriates you to almost no end – and that’s why the film that tells it is so great. It’s the smartest movie you’ll ever want to strangle.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

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