REVIEW: Compliance

Compliance was a very uncomfortable experience, to say the least. It’s one of those films that’s good, but you only really need to, or want to, see once. We join our protagonists in the middle of an afternoon shift change, in the town’s local ChickWich fast food restaurant. The day is not off to a good start. They’re short of pickles & bacon and to top it off, it’s Friday, so they’re in for a busy evening shift…unfortunately this is the least of their worries, as things get far worse.

The manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) gets a phone call from a police officer, informing her that one of her staff, a young blonde girl named Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer’s purse and that she needs to be held under supervision. Her locker and belongings are searched, while Becky pleads her innocence. After the search brings up nothing, the officer suggests Sandra strip search Becky or risk having her put into custody and spend the night in jail. Sandra complies and as the film progresses, things begin to escalate in the direction of depravity.

Other staff members begin to question what is going on, but nobody seems to be willing to question the authority of the so-called “officer” on the phone. This is the source of most of my frustration and anger. How can people let this happen? Why does no one ask for his badge number or call the police station to verify his existence? There are many times you just feel like stepping into the film and slapping someone silly for being so dumb.

The title goes some way to revealing the nature of the film and gives nod to the The Milgram experiment. A series of notable social psychology experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

The truly amazing thing about this film is that it’s based on a real event. Yes, sometimes when the words “based on a true story” are used, you can be assured it’s no where near the truth. But in the case of Compliance, it’s pretty much on the money. The film is almost a direct retelling of the Mount Washington, Kentucky incident in which a McDonald’s manager was duped into strip searching a member of her staff and ended up in a sexual assault and rape.

The most shocking revelation is that this type of incident was reported in other states at 70 fast food restaurants, throughout the USA. The film ends with a televised interview with the manager Sandra, explaining her actions, before being interrupted by her lawyer not to answer. The same scene happened in real-life and can be viewed in the video below.

Overall, I was impressed with the performances, but it took me a good 24hrs to separate my anger for the characters from the actors, to appreciate it. Ann Dowd in particular, as the Chickwhich manager, does a superb job.




  1. I’m interested in seeing this, but have no clue when i will be able to see it

    • yeah, it’s still playing film festivals. But should be on a limited release in the US. There’s no date yet for the UK.

      USA 21 January 2012 (Sundance Film Festival)
      USA 21 April 2012 (Wisconsin Film Festival)
      USA 25 April 2012 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
      USA 29 June 2012 (BAMcinemaFest)
      Switzerland August 2012 (Locarno Film Festival)
      Canada 10 August 2012 (limited)
      USA 17 August 2012 (New York City, New York)
      France 7 September 2012 (Deauville Film Festival)
      France 26 September 2012
      Russia 1 November 2012

  2. Good review Stu. The film kind of screwed the pooch for itself when it showed us the caller, but other than that, it was still a detailed, tense look at the way humans usually are when it comes to authority figures and just overall weird situations like this.

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