The story is taken directly from a series of police reports dating back to 2005, in which an ordinary businessman would call fast food restaurants, supermarkets, and smaller department stores while pretending to be a police officer, and force employees to commit sadomasochistic acts upon each other in the name of the "law". These already sadistic prank calls gone haywire usually ended in forced acts of sexual abuse, extreme humiliation, psychological scarring, and occasionally rape, all for the caller's twisted amusement as to how easy to was to control the workers. Rather than use these real life horror stories as a springboard to move into a more heightened, fictional reality, Zobel completely sticks to the reports themselves, allowing the feature to be a realtime reenactment of the Mount Washington, Kentucky incident. In this sickening scam, a teenaged McDonalds employee was forced to be strip searched by her fellow employees, and later put through disturbing sexual depravity by a caller only known to her as Officer Scott, in an exercise to see how far he could push the workers to bend to his perverted whims.
The acting featured in the film is, for the most part, downright flawless. Ann Dowd gives an award worthy performance as Sandra, the manager of the fast food joint being targeted by the fake officer. Emoting the combination of uncertainty and light cautiousness as Officer Daniels (renamed for the film) orders her to break each emotional and social taboo, even when her character is hardly in the frame. Also pitch perfect is Dreama Walker as Becky, the employee forced to become Daniels' test subject as he begins to push her fellow worker's morals as to how far they are willing to go to obey authority. Doe eyed and innocent, her downfall to the depths of somewhat self-inflicted perversity and brutality is heartbreakingly captured by Walker from the very first frame to the very last. Pat Healy, playing against type as the passive aggressive false authority figure Officer Daniels, manages to reach great heights with his performance as well. Up until the way end, where his demands gradually spiral out of control, Daniels remains a calm and cool person, a man you want to put your trust in no matter the outlandish demands and lack of proof. All three of these roles will under serious consideration for best performances of the year come December.
Just as flawless as the acting is Zobel's well tuned Hitchcockian direction. Making the wise choice not to include the most horrific acts of sexual abuse as part of the film, as not to make the acts of sadomasochistic brutality the film's main emphasis, Zobel knows when cutting back from the terrors is the most terrifying, but also when it is necessary to give the audience a front row seat to the depravity. Also, other than a well deserved concluding coda at the end which documents Officer Daniels arrest, and how the victims have readjusted, or lack thereof, to regular life after the ordeal, the camera remains almost entirely inside the restaurant, never giving a respite from the horrors taking place. It may of been conceived as a script which could work just as well as a play to the same level as a feature, but Zobel's confident direction renders the premise impossible to imagine in any other format.
Incredibly well acted, beautifully constructed, and one of the most terrifying films I've seen in a long time due to a commitment to realism, Compliance is not only the best feature in the Summer of Scares mini-festival, but also one of my favorite films of the year. It's a masterful exercise in terror that needs to be seen and experienced, if only to see some of the year's greatest performances, and a warning as to what can happen if authority runs amok. A near masterpiece.
Level of Terror: Terrifying
Summer of Scares Mini-Awards
Pat Healy: Compliance
Ann Dowd: Compliance
Elena's Powers Revealed: Beyond the Black Rainbow
Full Frontal Lobotomy with Screwdriver: The Loved Ones (tie)
Random Erect Penis Through Wall: Keyhole
Bloodied Human/Worm Creature: Beyond the Black Rainbow (tie)
Most Infuriating Moment:
Ending: Piranha 3DD
The Loved Ones
Beyond the Black Rainbow