Totally effed up and totally ridiculous.
Compliance is about the timid manager of a fast food restaurant who comes into work to find chaos as usual. Someone left the supply fridge open, employees are missing in action – just a bad way to start off an already busy day. As if that weren’t enough, her phone starts ringing and guess who it is! A gosh. darn. cop. Apparently, one of the manager’s girls at the register is being accused of stealing a customer’s money. The said customer went to the cop, the cop says he has it on tape, thus prompting a criminal investigation into the matter. Though the girl denies all wrongdoing, her manager nonetheless feels compelled to help the officer in any way possible. So she brings the girl into her office and starts obeying his suspect orders…
If you’re at all familiar with the Bullitt county McDonald’s incident (and if not, that link might just spoil the movie for ya’), then you, my friend, are already well aware of what we’re dealing with. I, for one, was completely unfamiliar with it and was sold on the premise right quick. “Someone who may or may not be a cop uses his ‘authority’ to have his way with this unwitting staff of fry cooks.” I don’t know about you, but that sounded pretty wild. Just like that, I wanted to know his identity, I wanted to know his motive, and since I had no idea how this would all play out, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take before someone called “bullshit.” Again, completely clueless about the events that inspired it. And, heck, you can only trust that “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” tagline so much these days.
Turns out, it’s pretty damn far from fiction.
I think the reason I was so intrigued by Compliance from the outset is that it left me wondering and it felt plausible. Folks, there are some seriously nasty mofos out there who get off on this noise on the regular. Just the other week I heard a story about my friend’s grandmother who got a call from some guy claiming to be her grandson. Lo and behold, he tried to get a thousand bucks worth of bail money off her because he claimed to broke and locked up in a Mexican prison. Luckily she called “bullshit” before things went any further, but as hard as it is to believe this scam works, there’s a reason they’re making these calls. Even scumbags gotta earn their coffee.
But this? This is something else. This, ladies and gentlemen, is warped.
Now, you figure in a real-life scenario like this, there can only be two logical explanations for how things got so far. A) The people at that McDonald’s must have been gullible as all hell and/or certified sociopaths; or, B) The dude they were talking to was a master of deception. Granted, column B can’t work without some help from column A, but from where I’m sitting, all signs point to column B. Let’s be clear, I’m no expert on the matter, but if this adaptation had played out in the way I’m guessing it did at McDonald’s, I can bet you that Verdict would be a whole lot higher. “If” being the optimal word.
With that being said, Compliance‘s downfall is a tricky one to explain because we’re essentially dealing with two stories: one that’s fact, and one that’s fiction piggybacking off of fact. And while both reach equal levels of astronomically crazy, one is clearly more effective than the other. Thinking you can guess which one I’m talking about.
The reason Compliance is so disturbing is because, to a degree, you can’t dismiss it as being unrealistic no matter how much you might wish to. However, the only things we can confirm in it are the things that are backed up by facts. What can’t be confirmed are the steps and conversations that led to the said facts. This is where writer/director Craig Zobel steps in to envision for us how it all went down. And in regards to how the plot escalates and how the caller keeps manipulating these people until they’re sitting in his lap, well, that’s where the bullshit comes in.
Even if I hadn’t seen the trailer, even if this were the first movie I’d ever effing watched, there is no way I’d buy the shit these people are being fed. The reason for that lies with the way Zobel envisions how his inspiration went down.
To his credit, Zobel’s hurdle was a tall one to clear. I mean, how the hell could something like this happen? It baffles the mind and one can only assume how such a perfect storm of coercion could have gotten pulled off. Man, whatever that guy said those people in real life must have been convincing as all hell to get them to do what they did. But this guy? Zobel’s guy? Give me a fucking break.
While quick on his feet and initially convincing, this dude is by no means a master of deception. His foolproof plan consists of throwing his “authority” around, using personal information as leverage (personal information that was provided way too easily to him by his victims), and getting lucky enough to find the biggest ignoramuses in the history of fast food. Whenever someone starts to get suspicious, he inevitably pulls the “I’M A COP!” card, quashes that shit right quick, and keeps them on the line indefinitely. And, lucky him, it works every time. On the one hand, I can absolutely appreciate the power of authority, fabricated or otherwise, and how it would work like gangbusters in getting people to at least listen or even run some errands. You can bet your ass I would have listened.
But even if the girl in question can’t afford to lose her job, even if the manager is a push-over, and even if her fiancee has had a couple beers, it’s absurd the way they blindly follow his lead and “handle” this situation, hook, line, and sinker. Even worse is when someone does try to speak up about this bizarro investigation, the manager just shoots them down without fail and in ways highly unbecoming of a human/fast food regional branch manager. And even though Zobel does a good job of creating every scenario imaginable so that everyone involved is either distracted, unmonitored, or all-too complacent at all times, it’s still a total stretch. I feel like the kinds of people who would fall for the tactics that Zobel gives his ultimate prankster are either too young to know what “stranger danger” is or are enjoying retirement down in Del Boca Vista. These are adults we’re dealing with, and no adult with half a brain would submit to this dude or his demands without question. As a result, the whole damn thing just comes off like one big excuse to watch a girl get victimized. Good times.
Though I’m well aware that I’m not speaking from experience and can’t say for certain what I would have done in their shoes, I am 99.99% certain that I would have hung up way early on in Zobel’s “what if…” version of events. Man, if you’re not convincing your audience that that your cop is a cop, then why on Earth should we believe that these poor folks would?
In fact, watching this brought up a lot of the same emotions as when I watched Trust last year. Both stories are believable because they’re grounded in reality, but it’s still hard for me to fathom that someone with a shred of common sense could be so easily exploited with so many red flags in front of them. As much as I feel awful for the victims in these movies, it’s far more frustrating than anything else to watch them submit to those pulling the strings.
Really just a miserable viewing experience in general that I came this close to turning off by the last half-hour. And to be honest, I wish I had.
But regardless of how it’s portrayed and how it’s closely based on actual events, it wasn’t long before I realized that Compliance isn’t a movie that needed making. Not saying it’s a bad movie or that it isn’t without its merits, it’s just that, from a moral standpoint, it’s borderline reprehensible. Even if it were a work of pure fiction, it’s still on par with torture porn. But being that it isn’t, it makes me wonder what it was about this story that made Zobel want to adapt it? Sure, it’s an unbelievable story, but for all the wrong reasons – the ones that’ll question your faith in humanity. Maybe if the players had been more convincing, I’d be singing a different tune. But the fact of the matter is that there’s still some poor girl out there who actually had to go through this, and I don’t see what’s to be gained by shining a spotlight on her and her victimizers here. Perhaps it’s telling me to not be so gullible? Perhaps it’s telling me to not be so naive? Whatever it is that I was supposed to take away from this, it’s the worst PSA I’ve ever seen. Something tells me I’m being generous with that statement.
If you’re the kind of person who likes pulling the wings off of flies or, I don’t know, thinks Ted Kaczynski and snuff porn get a bad rap, then consider yourself vindicated, Compliance has arrived. Can’t blame Zobel for the things that happened, but sure can blame him for putting them to film.
Guess I’m calling “bullshit” on this one.