Compliance by Craig Zobel
During a very busy day, Sandra, a fast-food joint manager in suburban Ohio, gets a call from a police officer accusing a member of her staff of stealing from a customer. Trusting him implicitly, Sandra puts Becky under surveillance.
“Compliance” is the English term for following regulations. This is the fascinating subject of young American director’s Craig Zobel’s first feature: how fear of, and respect for, the police can lead decent citizens to terrifying extremes of behaviour.
Compliance advances an abstracted demonstration of the banality and stupidity of Evil, all the more chilling and relentless in that it is based on a real crime and scrupulously follows the actual events. Building an almost unbearably powerful sense of suspense, needing few effects to rev up a thriller-like intensity, Compliance is also an intelligent allegory about the kind of everyday fascism that has often pleaded the ‘merely obeying orders, just submitting to authority’ defence.
Young Becky’s ordeal moved and provoked a section of American public opinion, in righteous, politically correct mode, to accuse the filmmaker of sadism and misogyny. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Zobel’s mise en scène rigorously eschews any hint of voyeurism, and the film’s ending removes all risk of succumbing to its subject’s sensationalist aspects, in order to give it a moral dimension.
The remarkable performances bring a human dimension to a film that is less an exposé than an impressive drama, unbelievable but true.