Written and directed by Craig Zobel, Compliance is possibly the most disturbing film you’ll see for a long time. Based on the true events of the 2004 McDonald’s prank call scam, it’s an unpleasant film to watch albeit an important one.
Sandra (Ann Dowd), manager of the fast food restaurant ChickWich, receives a phone call from an ‘Officer Daniels’ (Pat Healy) reporting a theft committed by her staff on duty described as a ’19-year-old blonde girl’. Sandra identifies Becky (Dreama Walker) as she’s the only member of her staff who fits the officer’s description. The policeman can’t come himself, as he’s busy investigating the accused’s house so Sandra agrees to cooperate and brings Becky into the back office. Although Becky refuses to having committed the theft, the officer has Sandra convinced that most thieves react similarly when questioned.
Officer Daniels orders Sandra to search Becky’s belongings and at the restaurant. Having found no money in her bag, Sandra is then asked to strip search Becky. But even after this horrible incident, Becky still has more trauma to suffer. The only person to question this authority figure and fight for a sense reason is the maintenance cleaner Harold, whose doubt leads to the realisation that the entire episode is simply a prank call — a call that would have a devastating impact on a young girl while pointing out some gaping holes in the American education system.
On some level, Compliance could become repetitive and frustrating for the viewer. You have the same voice on the phone instructing people on the other end to harass young Becky for over four hours. It is boring, but a reminder that this film is nothing but a depiction of what actually had happened in a McDonald’s store in Mount Washington, Kentucky in 2004. That is the hard bit to digest.
Officer Daniels manipulates an entire bunch of restaurant workers, making them do immoral and irrational things, and in the process victimises an innocent girl. You might not want to see Compliance due to its unsettling nature as well as the frustration that raises the question, “Are people really that naïve?” Nobody claims responsibility for this stupidity. Each character claims to be a victim of the prank. The film is benumbing, appalling, thought-provoking and most painfully, true; an unnerving demonstration of that part of the human condition that will naturally be subservient to someone we believe to be in a position of authority.
Both Dowd and Walker are terrific in the film. Dowd especially delivers a stellar performance as she portrays the ignorance and naivety of her character to utter perfection. Dreama Walker, likewise, is convincing as the victim of the evil prank. Although Compliance is a pain to sit through, it is what Rolling Stone calls ‘indispensable filmmaking’. It indeed is a film that penetrates through the clutter of true-story based cinema, one that needs to be watched not for entertainment, but for the realisation that we ought to live for ourselves and question authority at all times, no matter where in the social hierarchy we find ourselves in.