“Compliance” grossed $318,622 in the US, which basically means that nobody watched it or even knows about it. It had very limited theatrical release, but now it is available on Blu-ray. This movie is not a good choice to watch with your beer-buddies or with your date. It is not an entertainment, it is about serious and, as you may realize right after the end titles start, really scary stuff.
The movie tells the story of a call to a fast food chain restaurant. The caller presents himself as a police officer, orders the restaurant manager to conduct a search of one of employees belongings, then to strip search that employee, then... The caller’s orders escalate and the manager and other employees, except one, comply with them, and even manager’s fiancé complies. The further events may be guessed by some, but most of the non-professional reviews on the web consider everything to be stupid. For them, “Compliance” is a stupid badly acted movie based on a stupid premise.
First of all, the movie tells a true story which deserves to be known by everybody. Moreover, there were more than 70 such cases across the US. One cannot dismiss this particular incident as resulting from an exceptional stupidity of the manager. The title is quite direct: this is a film about compliance with orders of an authority or somebody who presents him/herself as an authority. Nobody and nothing in the film is stupid. The fact that such behavior as depicted in the movie is quite common at least in the US was demonstrated by the famous Milgram experiment in early 60ies on obedience to authority figures. Later on the experiment was replicated in the UK, and, in a non-scientific manner and only once, in France, but, apparently, nowhere else. (For the details, see Wiki or Milgram’s book.)
There is a significant difference between the Milgram experiment and the story told in “Compliance”: the caller wasn’t in any position of authority; he was just some anonymous guy who presented himself as a police officer. The instinctive compliance is so deeply ingrained that people do not even question the legitimacy of orders. If this is not scary, then I don’t know what is. The incredible level of compliance is present everywhere, although rarely in so dramatic manner. For example, the voluntary compliance with the MPAA movie ratings (MPAA has no legal authority at all) is 100%.
The results of Milgram experiment were so disturbing that such experiments were more or less forbidden. Similarly, the story told in “Compliance” is so disturbing that the film got a ridiculously limited release.
Speaking about the movie as simply a movie, one should first of all say that Craig Zoebel, who is both the screenwriter and the director, did a brilliant job. The dialogue is perfect and convincing to the smallest details. He managed to avoid a common claustrophobic feeling encountered when almost all action is happening in the same small building and even in the same room. The ensemble cast did a superb job. There are no stars, in a sense all characters are minor ones, and despite this, the acting is perfect.