Under the Radar?: “Compliance”


A frustrated fast food restaurant manager receives a call from the police regarding one of her young employees. She’s informed that the young girl has stolen from a customer earlier that day, and that the theft was witnessed by a surveillance team. Acquiescing to the police officer’s requests, the manager takes the girl into a back office, and eventually is talked into strip searching her.

Only, the caller isn’t a cop.

It might sound far-fetched, but the movie is based not only on an actual event, but an actual event within a rash of national events that took place over the course of a decade.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) manages a fast food restaurant. On a day when she has multiple issues on her hands (her employees left the freezer open the previous night and several hundred dollars of food spoiled, plus she’s expecting a surprise inspection), she receives a phone call from the police about an employee. The officer states that Becky (Dreama Walker), an attractive young cashier, stole money from a customer and that the victim is down at the police station filing a complaint. A team that was surveilling Becky (after previous complaints) witnessed the incident. He has the regional manager of the restaurant chain on the other line, and he wants her to bring the employee into the back room for questioning. The officer also talks Sandra into searching Becky, even to the extent of a strip search.

The problem is, the caller isn’t a police officer, he’s a pervert.

As the caller pushes the limits of what the restaurant employees are willing to do, and what the girl herself is willing to accept, the viewer is left to wonder how far things will go, and what the repercussions will be once the truth is revealed.

Compliance examines themes of authority and personal responsibility… the manager gets orders from a perceived authority, and accepts them with little or no questioning. The victim accepts orders as well. She’s given the phone at times to speak directly to the “police”, and of course, she’s given orders from the others on his behalf. Everyone involved accepts the flimsiest rationales, all on the basis that she’s talking to an officer of the law. In spite of the fact that she’s (and others) are being asked to do illogical and demeaning things to the girl, they act on them because that’s what they’re being told to do. Others, aware of the situation, turn a blind eye do to the fact it’s “none of their business”. Obviously, the film is a metaphor for how societies are led astray by people in positions of authority, and how disastrous, regrettable situations can occur.

What’s frightening is, it’s real…

Well scored, well-directed, and well acted, “Compliance” does a good job of creating a tense atmosphere. It’s a situation that’s bizarre and shameful, but illustrative of a weakness in the human condition. There are times when the situation gets extremely discomforting, but it’s necessary in order to convey the movie’s unflinching portrayal of the lengths people will go to in order to respect authority.


Daniel Fogarty


58 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Compliance”

  1. Even though I concede its technical and creative kudos, I disliked the film as has about the same ‘watch-ability’ as a bad horror film or something like Precious.

    In this case I got to the end and felt like my time was wasted in showing me how stupid people are and if I wanted that I could just watch some reality TV and call it a day. Some movies just shouldn’t be made.

    • So nothing but happy movies and comedies for you, Ric? LOL 😉

      I disagree, we need to see movies about the dark side of humanity, or we’re robbing ourselves of the full picture. I also dont think you can make the jump from the stupidity of reality TV to the gullibility and base compliance of this film.

      Definitely discomforting, and certainly not very rewatchable, but I definitely disagree that it shouldnt have been made. 😦

    • Isnt it freaking crazy? I wrote off the opening “Inspired by actual events” and forgot about it, basically, but when they closed with “These situations happened 70 times over 30 States…” I had to check it out! Unbelievable. 😯

  2. I’ve got to see this. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard such divergent opinions about a movie from people whose opinions I really trust. Some have told me it’s great and I gotta see it. Others have told me it’s absolute garbage.

    • Consider me somewhere in between, then Cam. I wouldnt go so far as to hail it as great or must see, but its certainly intriguing and worth a watch. I cant totally fault people who call it garbage, it definitely revolves around an uncomfortable situation, and some may find it exploitive, but I found the issues it raised to be extremely compelling. 😉

  3. As absurd as these people were (no offense to the victims) this was ONE very captivating film. One that you just can’t take your eyes off the screen because you want to see how gullible these people really are.

  4. Good review! I liked it too. If it was fiction I would have said “nobody can be that stupid” and walked out. Lol I guess it is one of the main reasons why this movie is great.

    • Totally true. Too unbelievable to be fiction! At the end when they put up the title card saying it had happened 30 odd times, I had to look it up!

      Unbelievable what some people in this world will do… 🙄

    • Yeah, that’s what really registered with me, too, Chris is how easily this person was able to manipulate these people. He was miles away, in total comfort, creating this crazy situation… and the people just played it out like Marionettes 😯 Worth your time to give it a look…

  5. When I reviewed this, I tried so hard not to rant, but I couldn’t help it. I bitched for about 3 paragraphs. I just can’t believe something like this actually happened more than once. It baffles me. I wouldn’t call it a bad film, because it’s done well and the acting is perfect for what it needed, but God, I wanted to punch someone after watching that.

    • More than once is an understatement! It happened something like 30 times! (Though this was the most extreme case…)

      Shocking, wasn’t it? As offensive as it was as an event though, I think it speaks to larger issues… there’s a flaw in people that wants to accept authority, otherwise this kind of stuff couls never have happened. 😦

  6. This was actually on my radar as I’ve read several reviews on this, I just feel like I have to be in the right mood to see it. I’m not too eager to be honest.

    • Its a difficult watch at times, I’m not gonna lie. But it still wound up being a good movie, to me. I’m not averse to difficult films though or anything…

      Hopefully after the aforementioned “several reviews” you have enough info to decide whether to steer clear or pull the trigger, Ruth! 😀

      • Somehow my inclination is to steer clear, ahah. I’m not averse to difficult films either, it just depends. I mean I know We Have To Talk About Kevin and The Imposter are disturbing but I’m more inclined to watch those.

  7. Man, that film was fucked up. Part of me wanted to be mad at Ann Dowd’s character for how dumb she is but given the pressure she was in that day, anyone could’ve been fooled. it’s a very disgusting film but a damn good one.

    • I dont know man, I dont know if I would have fallen for any of that. I’d like to think I’d have seen right through it, but I bet everyone involved in those scams thought the same thing. 😦

      Your last sentence there is spot on.

  8. I haven’t seen the film, but I did see the original 20/20 or Dateline (whichever it was, I don’t remember) report that inspired it, which focused on one of the more extreme cases (and from what I’ve read, the movie is mostly based on that incident.) Just absolutely ridiculous how gullible people were. I can understand the victim; after all, she’s got her bosses, her personal authority figures, right there telling her to do all this stuff. But they have no such excuse. They were tried and convicted themselves for their parts in it, and deservedly so, in my opinion.

    That it happened so many times in so many places is what takes it from disgusting to downright scary. To me, it shows that people need to be better educated on, well, a lot of things, but particularly on how to handle allegations of crime and how law enforcement operates. The police are not ever going to call you to report a crime. If they’re aware of a crime that they need to get involved in, they’ll come in person.

    • LOL! I know, right? That’s like, hurdle A. Uh, why are you calling. Admittedly, at least in the movie, the guy was pretty smooth and a bit of a fast talker, but even with that said, these people were just head scratchingly easy to manipulate 😯

      It was kind of scary though. This definitely was based upon the most extreme case, and “extreme” was a good way to describe it. 😦 The film was pretty well done though. It was well acted and directed, and plainly spoke to the larger issues. Difficult movie, but recommendable. 😉

  9. Certainly disturbing, but really rather good. One of 2012’s best (in my top 20, I’d think). I own it, but I don’t know if I’ll be watching it again… I wouldn’t want to sell it. I like having somewhat unknown gems in my collection 😀

    Nice review, Fogs. Too under the radar unfortunately 😦 It’s an interesting watch!!

  10. Good review, Fogs! I had an interesting experience with the movie. I thought it was interesting and unsettling but hard to believe. It’s sick what happened. And, according to wikipedia, everything in the movie happened verbatim in a fast food restaurant in Kentucky. It’s disturbing and sad that multiple people would let this happen.

    What I thought was interesting was that it happened in real life. Yet, knowing that, I had a really hard time sympathizing with the characters because their actions went so far against the logic of ordinary, fictional movie characters. When Sandra’s fiance questioned the authority figure and Sandra lashed out at him, accusing him of being drunk, it made me damn near hate her. Then entire time I was yelling at the characters to just tell the guy to send an officer to the restaurant. I never get like that with a movie, so I guess this was a unique experience.

    The fact that the guy didn’t seem to be doing it for any sexual gratification and was only doing it for the sheer amusement of it, added a layer of creepiness to it. I don’t think I’d watch it again either. But it was definitely an interesting viewing experience and a good cautionary tale.

    • Yeah, I have no idea what the guy’s motivation was. Power? Sheer maliciousness? It seemed slightly sexually motivated, obviously, but not completely, as you say.

      I would have had a much harder time with this film if it were completely fiction. I would have completely discarded the characters as poorly written, you know? “Cmon, no one is THAT dumb”. Yet, like you, I hit Wikipedia afterwards, and sure enough 😯 …

      Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction OV, it really is…

  11. I’d heard about this a while back, but didn’t know it was a film!!! Wow!

    I guess it’s that old film cliche, isn’t it – people can pretend to be in positions of authority (cop, firefighter, council worker) and get other people to do the most insane things, things they normally wouldn’t do. I guess we’re not built to question an authority figure, but if it got to the point where i was being threatened if I didn’t perform oral sex…. well, punch on, people.

    Good review, Fogs. I’ll have to find this one and check it out.

    • Yeah, there were about a dozen stop signs before that that you’d have thought they would have said, “wait, what?” at, but they never did 😯 I think in terms of what finally happened to the girl, the guy who was in charge of her at the time just got coaxed into assaulting her, and at that point the victim was already traumatized by the whole thing… I dont know. That’s my take on it though.

      Worth checking out though Rodney, its definitely a compelling movie…

    • Amazing, isn’t it? That’s why I was so quick to extrapolate it to a statement about humanity… It’s hard not to watch that movie and think “this is how entire nations are led astray” or “this is how a few people manage to control millions” etc…

      Still hard to believe that it happened.

  12. I saw this in theaters and it twisted my mind for weeks. I was shocked and appalled that it was based on true events. I read the investigative report on this event and it was insane how close the movie’s portrayal is. Wild stuff. So sad.

    I also did a write-up of Compliance.

    • It is sad. What a sicko that caller was, that’s the first thing. That kind of gets lost amongst all the amazement over how gullible the people were. I had to look into the facts afterwards as well, and sadly, yeah… It was apparently pretty accurate 😦

  13. As allways Im late again at posting comments on this site,and I apologize. This was a damn fine movie and it was in my top ten of 2012. All the actors were great, but I thought Pat Healy as the caller stole the show. He was so sick and disgusting, but early on I was laughing with him at just how gulliable these people were to follow his requests. The part where he ran out of calling cards and could not get back on the phone reminded me of that moment in Psycho where the car might not sink.
    It put me into the head space of a character I did not like.

    • LOL. Don’t sweat it Vern. Read or comment whenever you like, buddy. I was away this weekend, so I’m even late in replying this time! 😯

      I dont know how the real caller didn’t crack up when the people bought his bullshit. There were so many times when I’d have been like “They BOUGHT that?” *snicker* But then of course, he took things WAY beyond a prank 😯

      Definitely an unlikeable character, Vern, but you’re right, he did a good job with the part…

  14. Great pick, Fogs. I loved this movie, and the wide variety of reactions it gets are nothing short of amazing. This is the type of film that really knows how to get under the skin, and for that I really appreciate it. Still can’t believe this is 100% true.

    • Thanks Eric!

      Well, from everything I’ve read, they got as close as movies usually do in these “True Story” situations… scary, isn’t it?

      You’re right on it getting a pretty wide range of reactions, but I can understand why. As you mention, it definitely gets to you.

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