Compliance is the most ridiculous film that I’ve ever seen. But not because it’s bad. In fact, it’s very good. In an awful way. The problem is, the events that it depicts are so utterly dreadful that it seems impossible to believe that it’s based on a true story. At times, you certainly do forget that it is.
I saw a preview of this as part of the London Film Festival, in a cinema full of seemingly intelligent, open-minded people. Yet we were only about half-way through when a 60-ish-year old man got up and walked out, followed by his wife, shouting: “This is ridiculous. Why are we all sitting here watching this rubbish? Come on, let’s all leave.” And I must admit, I did whisper loudly and indignantly to the stranger next to me: “He’s totally right. This is too much.” and was very tempted to join the people who did get up and exit with him. Yet I stayed. And I’m really, really glad that I did. Especially as at the very end, when the credits were about to roll, we learnt that not only was the film based on a true event, but that event had been replicated across America 70 times. That’s SEVENTY TIMES.
So, what made the gentleman so angry that he had to leave? The final straw for him was the scene where the young, pretty female cashier at a fast food place, who’s been accused of stealing a customer’s money by a policeman on the phone and coerced into stripping naked in the stockroom, is now being ‘searched’. Yes. Indeed. And as I said, that really is only about half way through.
This is the true story of an All American Pervert who for a while would call fast food places, speak to the manager, impersonate a policeman and – as mad as it sounds – persuade them they needed to strip search a particular female employee to find stolen cash. Flummoxed and feeling under pressure, the managers would eventually do what was asked of them. And, very sadly, not only wouldn’t it stop at the search, but other people would be brought in to assist, somehow equally persuaded that this was the right thing to do.
This film is the ultimate example of how easily-led people can be manipulated and of how one-thing-can-lead-to-a-terrifying-other. Ultimately, it demonstrates the danger of blind obedience towards authority.
Writer and director, Craig Zobel, has made an amazingly brave and daring film. He really doesn’t pull any punches in depicting just how extreme this was. These young women suffered awful sexual abuse and humiliation at the hands of many people, directed over the phone by an abusive puppet master who was playing with real lives. And yet, somehow, Zobel also generates a slither of sympathy towards those who got duped into helping him. Jerked out of their mundane lives into a scenario that they were too weak and stupid to control, turning them into something they never imagined they were. In the end, the repercussions of that one depraved man’s actions are hard to imagine, sadly making victims out of all of them. Hopefully telling their story will help them come to terms with it.