One Liner Review:
A really well-made and suspenseful thriller that puts you in the moment, and let’s you feel like you are experiencing this all right along with the characters.
A movie that tells the story of a prank caller and how much trouble and pain he is able to stir up for the people he speaks with. The caller claims to be a police officer, as he dials up a fast food restaurant chain, and the accusations he makes lead to a female employee being sexually abused by her coworkers. It’s not a pretty story, but boy is it presented well, keeping the viewers on the edge of their seats. Some will sneer at this film and say it is ridiculous and unbelievable, but the truth is, this really happened. And not just once either. This sort of thing was happening all over the country, at least a dozen times. It is crazy to think of that, but sometimes the most uncomfortable and wildly strange situations are actually true. The movie is a thriller that keeps the viewer riveted, especially because of the way it handles small details and makes the audience feel like they are there, spending the day in the restaurant, right alongside the people involved.
Compliance is a very well-made, creepy suspense film. There’s no murder or deadly threat here, but what we do get is a pretty wild and uncomfortable experience. Every bit of this story is sold on the performances of the actors. They handle some smart writing by making it feel incredibly realistic. Considering that this is such a low budget film with only one real location, and a mostly confined situation, it’s remarkable how well the film holds our attention and keeps us glued to the screen. This is the film of a prank call that turns into sexual abuse and moral questioning. It’s about the regular working class people who suddenly find themselves caught in a situation where they have absolutely no idea what to do.
The movie is remeniscent of Bubble, the Steven Soderbergh-directed independent film from about a decade ago. That film featured the workers of a small town factory, who found themselves involved in a murder investigation as the prime suspects. Like Bubble, Compliance is about small town working class people. Both films are made with a sort of grainy, unpleasant-looking atmosphere. Both films also share a background subtext about older women trying to compete against younger ones for the status of just being considered relevant. And both films make you believe that they either really did happen, or certainly could.
Compliance begins by putting us right in the middle of a conflict. Outside of a fast food restaurant chain, a manager is dealing with a delivery man in the parking lot. The situation is that the freezer was left open overnight, and all of the bacon is now ruined. So the store manager called over to the warehouse and got a shipment of bacon driven delivered, only this took place without contacting or in any way notifying the regional manager. The delivery man is furious when he learns this. Here he is, thinking he is doing the right thing and helping out, coming over here on short notice, only to learn that the order did not come through the proper channels and that he can actually get in trouble for what he is doing. He is very aggressive in the way he speaks to the restaurant manager, an older woman named Sandra, (Ann Dowd,) and she lets him know that she doesn’t appreciate his reaction or tone.
The bacon situation isn’t finished here. It carries into the store, where Sandra holds a meeting among her employees and lets them know what one of them did. Already, there’s an air of mystery and tension floating around about who left the freezer opened, and how they are all on high alert. This is great for character establishment and the setting of the tone. Sandra, for one, is a character who we really get introduced to, and instantly begin to pity. Especially after a conversation at the counter between two of the younger empolyees, (Becky and Marty,) where Sandra jumps in, only to get rejected and laughed at. The conversation is about sending sexual pictures to someone. Sandra cuts into the discussion by saying that she and her fiance use sexting with each other. No sooner does Sandra turn around and walk away, do the girls start laughing at the comments she made. And the film makes sure to show us that Sandra can still hear every word they are saying.
It’s about this time that the call comes in which will occupy and characterize the rest of the movie. A man on the line claims to be a police officer who received a tip about some money that was stolen. He claims the money was taken from a customer who put her purse on the counter and watched in horror as one of the employees reached in and grabbed a wad of cash. The whole thing is ridiculous, when you think about it. If this really happened, wouldn’t the woman who had her money stolen have done something about it, right then and there? Still, this officer is convincing, and finds ways to deceive Sandra, into giving him the details that will help further his story. She gives him the name, Becky, for example, and then he runs with it, saying, “oh right, we have her down here as Rebecca, but that’s her.”
The first thing the officer asks Sandra to do is bring Becky into the back room to be stip searched. Becky is an attractive young blonde girl (who looks a lot like Rose Mcgowan,) and she has no idea what’s going on. When told about the money accusation, she denies it immediately, but then Sandra tells Becky it’s either they do the strip search there, at the store, or else she will have to be taken into the police station. Becky agrees to do it there, but only if her friend, Marty, can be in the room too. They do the strip search and think they’re done, but find out this officer is really just getting warmed up. He tells them Becky will have to stay in that back room until he gets there, and asks if there’s someone else who can be trusted to watch her until then.
The officer finds out, through Sandra, of course, that Becky has an older brother who has gotten into trouble with the law before. Just like that, the officer concocts a story about how this whole thing is part of a bigger investigation about both Becky and her brother, and drugs they may be running out of their house. He tells Sandra that he and a task force are at Becky’s house right now, and that’s why he can’t be there, at the restaurant, at this time. Becky says her brother doesn’t do or sell drugs, and the boy who is sent in to watch Becky confirms this. When the officer starts telling this boy about Becky, and what to make her do, the boy walks out of the room, saying he wants no part of it.
That’s when the officer gets Sandra to call up her fiance, Van, and see if he will help. Van comes over, after having had a few beers somewhere with his buddies, and he has no idea what’s going on. Sandra asks him to just watch Becky and speak to the officer on the phone. The officer now takes full advantage of the idiot he is now speaking with. He instructs Van to perform another strip search on Becky, and this time to take the apron away from her that she has been using to cover herself up. Then he tells Van to make her do jumping jacks to try to shake the money loose. At one point, he even makes Becky perform a sexual act on Van. The movie doesn’t show this very closely, (meaning we don’t even see the officer mention it to Van over the phone,) and that’s too bad, because it is the most unbelievable part of the film. It would have been more credible if the movie let us know how the hell this officer convinced either one of them to do this.
Other than that misstep, however, the movie really handles itself well. I love that about halfway into the film we actually get to see the caller, and then little by little we see more and learn more about him. We follow him around his house as he makes a sandwich and talks on the phone. Later on, after the police have been called in and the investigation is underway, they are able to tell Becky, and those involved, a good deal of information about the man. This film is in many ways a mystery, and other than that one scene which should have been explained a little better, this movie mostly fills in all the holes and presents itself clearly.
Compliance is a pretty crazy movie. It’s definitely the kind of uncomfortable film where you cringe while watching it, but just can’t look away. Considering the cast of little known actors, and the limited budget, as well as relatively unknown filmmakers, this movie is very impressive. It’s a story that knows where the conflict is and how best to present it. When you think about it, there isn’t a whole lot that happens in the film. It’s about a single lengthy phonecall. And yet, the way this is all orchestrated over the course of one day, really holds your attention. The ending allows us to take a step back and look at the situation from an outsider’s point of view, and that helps, with the reflection part of the whole thing. This is a pretty intense movie of a horrifying story.