ChickWich, a local fast food chain, is in trouble as a freezer door wasn’t closed all the way the night before and $1500 worth of product was lost. During one of their busiest days of the week, the restaurant is in short supply of bacon and completely out of pickles. Sandra (Ann Dowd) deals with it the best she can, but doesn’t inform her general manager. As the hectic day drags on, a police officer named Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) calls and says that Becky (Dreama Walker), one of the cashiers, stole from one of the customers and the victim is currently there with him claiming all of this. Sandra does whatever the officer says even when his demands become more than a little strange and the situation becomes extremely uncomfortable and traumatizing for Becky.
Rape has been something that has always been hard to stomach when it has been put to film. It’s a vile act and is never a pleasant experience. It’s one of the few things that still makes this film critic cringe no matter how long it lasts or how many films he sees. “Compliance” manages to hint at it without ever really showing anything. That uneasy feeling is still there and the uncomfortable atmosphere, but nothing too graphic is ever shown. You see Becky kneeling in front of Sandra’s boyfriend/fiance Van (Bill Camp), her palm press against the ground, her bracelets slide down her wrist, and her feet go limp on the floor. But other than some shots of her being topless during the incredibly humiliating strip search, you don’t see anything else. It manages to tap into the same feelings of disgust that you felt while viewing films like “I Spit on Your Grave,” “The Last House on the Left,” or even “Irreversible” except you aren’t forced to watch anything too grotesque.
The wonderful cinematography is a huge factor in “Compliance” working out as well as it does. You know you’re in for something different as soon as the opening credits pop up; “Inspired By True Events” and a title card are shown. The background is black, but the text is transparent and shows bits and pieces of some extraordinary still shots which are eventually shown in full. Telephone wires, painted arrows on asphalt, various shots of snow, and painted roads are a few examples. Seeing the reveal of Officer Daniels, the blur effect and everything slowly come into focus, is a nice touch as is the camera being propped on the inside of the cop car door when Detective Neals (James McCaffrey) is finally called to the scene.
The incredibly simple but absorbing score is amazing, as well. It’s usually nothing more than some simple piano arrangements and sharp strings, but it helps add to the unsettling atmosphere. The music would be beautiful on its own, but is haunting in its execution.
You can relate to most of the performances, as well. The reactions to the entire situation by Becky’s friend and co-worker Kevin (Philip Ettinger) and assistant manager Marti (Ashlie Atkinson) are perhaps the most logical to the situation as they both know how messed up the entire thing is and basically refuse to take part in it or want what’s best for Becky. It certainly seems as though Ann Dowd’s Sandra only wants to get through this unpleasant mess as quickly as possible and isn’t thinking clearly because of how busy her fast food chain is. Dreama Walker has a really intriguing performance mostly because Becky seems completely devoid of emotion by the time the movie ends. She gets the short end of the stick just because her brother had a few run-ins with the law in the past.
Pat Healy as Officer Daniels is incredibly disturbing though. His conversation over the phone seems pretty by the book until he starts asking that Sandra does a strip search on Becky. Then you start seeing “Officer Daniels” at home writing in a notebook, making a sandwich, and running out of time on his prepaid cell phone cards. It’s scary how methodical he is and Pat Healy does a hell of a job.
“Compliance” takes an extremely unpleasant and nauseating experience for everyone involved and puts this masterful spin on it to make it not only watchable, but a really solid piece of film overall. The writing reels you in in a way that makes its 90-minute duration fly by in an instant, the performances are outstanding, and the excellent camera work makes viewing the film an absolute treasure. You almost feel guilty for liking a movie on this disturbing subject matter, but at the end of the day there’s no denying how good of a film and how engrossing “Compliance” really is.