Set in a fast food restaurant named “Chickwitch”. Sandra (Ann Dowd) is the boss. Hundreds of dollars worth of bacon have been spoiled so she puts it right by nagging her subordinates. Employee Becky (Dreama Walker) has a boyfriend. Sandra receives a phone call from someone calling himself Officer Daniels who tells her there is a thief among the staff. Sandra targets Becky and she is compliant with Daniel’s demand to isolate Becky and then subject her to increasingly humiliating treatment. Daniels is actually an evil hoaxer…
This is a truly scary and original film about humanity’s terrifying gullibility when faced with dictatorial behaviour. In her eagerness to do right by the law, it never occurs to Sandra to question the initially implausible, and later downright sick, demands of the phone caller. The police station is only half a mile away yet she doesn’t wonder how it takes so long for the caller to arrive. Becky must take off her clothes and submit to this caller’s demands in a film which looks like a very dark Twilight Zone episode. Whatever one’s view on the Milgram Experiment (a 1961 laboratory situation in which students administered what they thought were increasing doses of electric shocks to victims, doing this out of cowed obedience, in reality the “victims’ simulated pain”), Compliance illustrates it as it glares at our readiness to succumb to unsupported assertion and arrogant control. Compliance‘s characters are like lab rats in their self serving propensity to act on slanderous rumour. We’ve seen too many examples in recent history to doubt this as such manipulative evil can flourish in our readiness to submit to outrageous claims to authority.
Compliance has chosen a fast food diner, with its overworked staff serving disgusting fried food (I wouldn’t give burgers to a dog, never mind a human being). Sandra’s fiancée (played by Bill Camp) also complies with the demands of the fake police officer The prankster knows when to use the right doses of flattery and threat. Compliance bleakly portrays Sandra as no different from most petty authority figures in such workplaces, she is submissive to hierarchy, and bullying to those she has authority over, her slave mentality makes her perfect compliance material. Compliance is a Haneke parable about our primitive malleability when it serves our imagined petty advantage e.g. in approval seeking. Upon being questioned at the end of the film, Sandra claims victim status and squirms with self justification when shown filmed evidence of her compliance, and tries to change the subject with a banal observation. This film is based on a real incident.