Compliance (2012)

4,5/5

USA; Craig Zobel

 

Mature Audiences - Disturbing Sexual Content; Sequences of Emotional Torment; Brief Strong Language

 

 

A twisted prank call throws into disarray the staff of a McDonald's  when the caller, pretending to be a police officer, accuses one of the young female employees (Dreama Walker) of having stolen money from a client’s purse. Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, complies with the demands of the so-called policeman, hoping to straighten out the matter as smoothly as possible. With his exigencies growing more vicious and perverse, almost nobody asks himself one simple question: how far can I go?

 

Zobel’s fascinating and fearless plunge into such a lurid and shocking subject matter has simultaneously the power to rivet and appall. Though among one of the most unsparing sits of the year, this is a story articulated with a genuine, raw delicacy, and ultimately a movie of a surprising tenderness and humanity. Worlds apart from the noisy, garish and heartless sexploitation shocker  one could have dreaded, Compliance is a silent, introvert nightmarish trip into the vileness of human behavior, sharpened by an acerbic, unflinching reflection on authority and how we relate to it. Laid bare, the implications are frightening - or is it us who are frightening?

 

Compliance is a movie with no climax. There are several micro climaxes, moments that inflate and then deflate, keeping the viewer snared, shattered, his heart pounding wildly. It goes up and down, but the tension never sags. 

 

The film is anchored by terrific performances from the leads and the supporting cast, that impart a throbbing sense of authenticity and human density to this harrowing experience. Ann Dowd as the helpless and naïve manager of the fast-food, and involuntarily the cruelest of the innocent girl’s tormentors, has the matriarchal presence of the part, but also the feebleness of this woman desperately seeking approval and sympathy. But it is Dreama Walker who does the heavy lifting, and she shines out in what may be the most excruciating role of the year. She never allows her character to grow into a screaming, strident puppet, and instead delivers a complex, subtle performance, of a scary, and yet remarkably austere, intensity.

 

Compliance never shies away from detailing with excruciating precision the victim's harrowing ordeal, yet, brimming with empathy, it never strips the characters from their humanity. Driven by an urgent moral concern, Craig Zobel delivers a nerve-wrecking, stomach-churning mini miracle, tragically overlooked both by critics and audience, which gets under your skin and stays there.

 

 

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