Compliance Review

The Film

Often when it comes to films based on (or in this case, “inspired by”) true events, our advice would be that if you didn’t know the facts, to watch the film first and then read up afterwards. However, in the case of Craig Zobel’s superbly taut Compliance, we’d probably recommend reading up on the events before watching it unfold.

Despite the opening caveat stating “nothing has been exaggerated”, the film’s increasingly disturbing second act will potentially have you shouting at the screen at the incredulity of it all. If you didn’t know the facts, you could well be forgiven for thinking Zobel had gone down the sensationalist route, putting events on screen in search of a response instead of because they actually happened. But happen they did and Zobel – in just his second feature – ensures that while Compliance is rarely an easy watch, it remains a compelling one.

Taking place in a fictional fast food restaurant, Compliance predominately centres on employee Becky (Dreama Walker) and her boss Sandra (Ann Dowd). Having received a call from someone claiming to be from the police (Pat Healy) and stating that Becky has stolen from a customer, Sandra is convinced to start interrogating Becky, setting in motion a series of events that culminates in shocking fashion.

That the film works so well is largely down to the outstanding trio of lead performances. In lesser years, Dowd’s turn as the needy Sandra could well have seen her to a supporting actress Oscar nod, while Walker showcases considerable dramatic chops and raw emotion as Becky, a role a world away from her impeccable comic timing in the cruelly cancelled Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23. However, it’s Healy that narrowly steals the show as the believably creepy ‘Officer’ Daniels, especially as he spends the film with just a phone for company and for the first 40 minutes or so, isn’t even glimpsed on screen.

Zobel’s decisions aren’t to be devalued either. Not only does he smartly choose to be tasteful and not gratuitous in the film’s darker moments, but by grounding Compliance in reality and the mundane, it only amps up the horror of the second act as Sandra’s soon-to-be fiancée Van (Bill Camp) gets involved with devastating consequences. Case in point, the film ends with a conversation about the weather instead of utilising the tracking down of the suspect for cheap dramatic effect and heft.

And if there’s to be a slight disappointment with Compliance, it’s that Zobel plays it almost too straight. Not humour-wise, but more that it often comes across as a documentary with an almost real-time unspooling of the events, instead of delving into the psychological aspects of why anyone would decide to act the way they did in the similar real-life incidents, over 70 of which took place between 1991 and 2004. As it is though, Compliance remains a gripping and uncomfortable watch, and one that lingers long in the memory.

The Disc

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and with a choice of DTS-HD 5.1 and LPCM Stereo soundtracks (plus optional English subs), Compliance’s disc is solid and faithful to Zobel’s vision for the film. Along with pin-sharp detail on the various close-ups throughout the film, the disc copes well with the sometimes jittery handheld camerawork that shores up the realistic approach to the subject matter. That being said, the slight saturation of colours means that overall, it isn’t the sharpest of presentations mainly due to Zobel’s stylistic choices.

A dialogue-heavy film, the soundtrack is strong when it comes to the layering of a subtle, foreboding score underneath the film’s dramatic sequences. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack comes to the fore with a suitably hefty and sharp presentation of the score’s reliance on strings and percussion during its standalone moments, often during montages that provide brief respites from the tension.

Disc extras, however, are uninspiring. Opening with trailers for Bullhead, Gimme The Loot and For Ellen (5.11), the only other notable extra is marketed as “behind the scenes interviews” but amounts to a two minute fluff piece, with brief interludes from Zobel, Dowd and Healy. It does at least provide one interesting aspect of filming, that Healy was always on the phone in a different location to the main shoot. That it’s so brief is especially disappointing when you consider the wealth of information already out there about the real-life incidents.

The package is rounded off by a total of 37 alternative posters – often proving the case that in design, less is more – and a theatrical trailer (2.01). On a design note, special kudos have to go to the packaging’s stark design, with critical acclaim not at the forefront, but rather faded into the background behind a powerful image of Walker.

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