Written & Directed by Craig Zobel
Craig Zobels “inspired by true events” Sundance film festival film stars Dreama Walker as an unfortunate fast food employee whose world gets turned upside down when a prank call leads to her 19 year old character, Becky, having the worst shift of her life. Although I am an advocate of no spoilers, I have to warn you that this film can be disturbing to some audiences, having watched it with my housemates and viewing the different shocked reactions, ranging from confused laughter to researching actual events, Compliance is not a film to be entered into watching lightly.
It can be quite a difficult film to watch at times due to Zobels choice in cinematic features. His choice to almost play out the events in real time means that you will need a lot of patience to watch this film, but it is worth it in the end, you truly feel the humiliation of Becky through the length of time she was put through this ordeal. The combination of long takes and revelation of the prank caller to the audience but not the characters gives that sense of dramatic irony, us knowing it is a prank call, waiting, wishing that they would just realise. I myself got really involved with the film. I think the fact that it is based on true events, makes it seem even more painful to watch but, as one of my housemates put it, you literally just can’t stop watching.
There are a few Kubrickian and Tarantino elements in it, but as a massive fan of both directors I seem to find that in everything. The opening credits of block capitals seems Kubrickian although can also be compared to the start of Cabin in the Woods, and the constant food shots reminds me of some Tarantino films, specifically the recent Django: Unchained. The food shots also prolong the film and humiliation, the constant reminder that this is all happening in the back rooms of a fast food restaurant just makes it seem even more … dirty. Although there is nudity there is nothing sexual about it, again this all adds to the humiliation we feel for Becky, and, although some sexual events are included in the story, nothing is shown, just suggested by innuendo shots to do with food and drink, they are so subtle and not absolutely necessary to the story ,at the time, as a more extensive explanation is given in an investigation part of the narrative at the end, to the point where one person I was watching it with actually asked aloud what was going on. It’s effective though, it gives those who are able to handle it the fuller picture and for those who aren’t, they can overlook it. I suppose dividing the audience into different character camps, those oblivious to the events like the manager and those who know full well what’s going on, like some of the other employees, allows us to know what the characters, outside the main story, are feeling. This is emphasised at the end where a televised interview is given, which I am guessing is a replica of a real one.
Throughout the film, us as an audience are asking “how can they believe this?”, “how did they not know?” which is exactly what the public asked. An explanation is almost given through the mention of the Milgram experiment at the start of the film. For those who didn’t do A Level psychology, it was an experiment in which the influence of an authority figure was tested on the participants’ willingness to inflict pain on other subjects. It has now since been deemed and unethical but gained the result of a majority being able to inflict pain if they are not directly responsible for it. This is explored through this film, and the real life result is scary.
My recommendation is to set aside some time to watch this film, you can’t really watch it half-heartedly. Compliance will no doubt give you food for thought for days and, disturbing as it is, this analysis of human compliance is a must watch for any film lover. The bold choices of Zobel in his topic for this film and expectations of his audience makes it not only enjoyable but slightly enlightening. You will come away from the screening with a lot more knowledge about human nature than, maybe, you would like to.