director Craig Zobel
I felt a bit dirty after watching Compliance. Maybe one should.
Based on real life events, referred to on Wikipedia as the “Strip search prank call scam”, it’s a narrative film depicting a version of something that really did happen in a McDonald’s restaurant in Kentucky in 2004, which was an extreme version of something that was happening on a serial level for quite some time. Of course, Compliance doesn’t take place in a McDonald’s. It takes place in a generic burger joint in a non-disclosed state. That said, it sticks pretty close to the facts of the case.
A man calls a busy fast-food restaurant and speaks to the manager, a woman in her middle years, who is under a lot of stress. He convinces her that he is a police officer, has her manager on the other line, and that a girl at the cash register has stolen some money from a woman’s purse. He gets the manager to bring the girl into the back of the store, confront her, and strip search her. The film reveals slowly the caller in question and within a half an hour, we know it’s no police officer, but some man in a suburban home, crank calling. Actually, if you knew the plot of the film, you probably knew that fact all along as well.
If that was all, it would have been bad enough, but he convinces her to get her fiancee to come in to monitor the girl while the manager runs the restaurant. The caller goads the fiancee to have the girl show her empty orifices to him, allow him to spank her and ultimately perform oral sex on him.
This story, the true story of the events, is hard enough to believe but knowing that it did happen and trying to rationalize how someone could be in such a place as to believe any aspect of the caller’s rather unbelievable requests, one has to posit the psychology and stressors of those involved. The filmmakers, though, in re-creating this event, trying to cast the whole crew as good-hearted, best-intentioned people under a great deal of stress and manipulation, winds up putting a pressure on his cast and the narrative film that is perhaps too much to bear.
I mean, it is a crazy story. It’s laughable in the film when certain things are put out there by the caller. That anyone would for an instant believe or follow-through on any of his demands is absurd. I almost felt that the film would have been better as a parody or comedy. The absurdity is so immense.
In a documentary, perhaps, this crazy tale could be made understandable somehow, but for the earnest best efforts of cast and director, the film is a sympathetic sexploitation. And it had me thinking one of those horrible thoughts while watching a movie: Why did I think I would want to watch this? It’s not the most disturbing thing ever but it’s awkward and no fun and why do I feel like laughing?