'Compliance' - Human Gullibility Is Showcased In Sundance's Most Controversial Film [Sundance 2012]

Craig Zobel's Compliance made me want to walk out of the theater. Not as a reaction to the film's quality, however. On the contrary, Compliance is actually quite accomplished. Actually, it's so effective it made me want to walk out because the real life events portrayed were so enraging, so unbelievable, so easily avoidable and painted such a bad light on humanity that I could almost not stomach sitting in the theater.

In the film, a man posing as a police officer calls a local fast food restaurant and accuses an employee named Becky (Dreama Walker) of stealing from a customer. The man asks her manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) to at first detain, and later search her employee. From there things devolve to almost unbelievable and upsetting depths. I say "almost unbelievable" because the film is based on true events that happened at a Kentucky McDonald's in 2004. (In the film, however, McDonald's isn't mentioned for obvious reasons.)

At the first public screening of Compliance, Zobel was screamed at by audience members and accused of misogyny. Other Q&A's also featured awkward and uncomfortable questions/comments as people wrestled with the disturbing events in the film. Read more about the film and its purpose after the jump.

It's easy for any of us to say "I'd never do that" while watching Compliance. It's easy to think the whole situation could have been avoided by hanging up the phone. If those thoughts weren't constantly screaming in our heads, the film wouldn't work. But this true story isn't an isolated case.  Other well-known scientific studies have concluded that humans who are presented with authority will obey it. Have you ever moved out of someone's way when they asked sternly? Awkwardly apologized for bumping into someone when they gave you a dirty look? These are much lesser examples of what Sandra and Becky deal with in Compliance.

Zobel presents the story almost exactly as it happened with no frills and only a slight, if questionable compromise. He frames the film in a way that the tension builds and builds as more and more information is revealed. Then, just when things get to their worst, someone finally acts like a human being and the denouement is cathartic. A worthy reward for an emotionally draining journey

Compliance is a frightening look into a basic human flaw. The visceral reactions it elicits are because, inside all of us, we struggle with morality on a daily basis. When a film can tap into that at a core level, it's scary.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10