In a role that should have earned her an Academy Award nomination (but I suspect the old-fart contingent couldn’t make it through the film, if it tried at all), Ann Dowd (Side Effects) gets the role of her long character-actress career as Sandra, manager of a fictional fast-food restaurant. Her shift at ChickWich starts as stressful, what with a shortage of bacon and pickles — a problem akin to spilled milk compared to the events that spiral thereafter.
The trouble begins with a phone call from Daniels (Pat Healy, The Innkeepers), a police officer who regrets to inform Sandra that one of her employees — the bubbly, blonde cashier Becky (a very brave Dreama Walker, TV’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23) — has been accused of theft. As viewers, we are privy to key information that Sandra is not: that Daniels is not one of the boys in blue, but just a prank caller having fun.
What he instructs Sandra to do, however, is fun to no one else. In fact, it’s criminal.
I won’t spoil it, either. Dowd’s performance aside, there are several remarkable things about Compliance. One is the series of escalating violations — of rights, of physicality — that occur to a jaw-dropping degree. The other is that writer/director Craig Zobel is able to turn what essentially is one long telephone conversation into not only feature-length, but tense and compelling at that.
His camera captures events from a perspective both clinical and detached, and yet simultaneously more probing and intimate than comfort allows. You may not love Compliance — hell, many will hate it, and I get that — but you won’t soon forget it. Like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, it gives voyeuristic viewers what they think they want, then turns a deaf ear to any protests. After all, you asked for it. —Rod Lott