Based on the strip search prank calls that occurred for over a decade, which saw numerous people being taken in by a mysterious caller pretending to be a state official, Compliance keeps its voyeuristic eyes on the 24 hour fallout from a phoncecall received by a fast-food restaurant on its busiest day of the week.
When till jockey, Becky (Dreama Walker), is accused by the aforementioned caller of stealing money from a customer, she finds herself violated, dehumanized and even sexually assaulted. And despite this, and being very aware we leave ourselves open to attack, Compliance isn’t really about her. It’s about Sandra, the frumpy, middle-aged restaurant manager who takes the call to begin with. Played wonderfully by Ann Dowd, she is a put upon woman who, when we first meet her, is being berated by a delivery man and mocked by the ankle biters, including Becky, who make up her team.
As soon as she receives the call that wags its audial finger at Becky, Sandra is pulled in. Whether this is as a way of showing her dominance in the restaurant or simply because she feels she’s doing her bit for society, it’s never made entirely clear, with a denouement that suggests that Sandra doesn’t really understand what she’s doing. It’s a testament to Dowd’s portrayal that you will flip flop from pitying her, to out and out anger at her stupidity.
Rarely stepping outside the perimeter of the restaurant’s car park, director Craig Zobel ensures Compliance is a claustrophobic affair. When we do leave the confines of the Kentucky fried cock-up, we find ourselves peering over the shoulder of the crank caller (Pat Healy) as he performs the most mundane of tasks, such as making a sandwich, whilst making the most malevolent of phone calls.
Compliance is not an easy ride. Like a dark relative to Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary, it adds to the discussion of human behaviours and group pressure. It’s very easy to reach the end credits and proclaim to the person next to you that you would never be caught out like Sandra and Becky, but how long afterwards you can keep up that pretense is another matter.