Movie Review: ‘Compliance’

Director: Craig Zobel

Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy

Plot: The manager and workers of a fast food franchise restaurant find themselves in a difficult position when a calling identifying themselves as a police officer asks them to perform unseemly tasks.

Review: I’d heard of the true events that inspired this film before learning about the movie itself…it is certainly a matter of truth being stranger than fiction. If this story had been pitched as a movie it likely would have been dismissed as unrealistic or difficult to accept.

In recent years a spate of disturbing prank calls were made to mostly fast food franchises. The caller would speak to the manager, claiming to be a member of the local police, and would claim that a member of the staff had committed a theft and the manager was needed to help prove it. Under instructions from the ‘police officer’ on the phone the manager would interrogate the accused, perform strip searchers and in some cases force or coerce the victim into sexual acts. It’s difficult to grasp what is more concerning – how far things got taken or how often they happened (some 70 recorded cases). 


It wasn’t clear from the outset how a movie version of events would approach the material, whether it would be the starting point for a schlock thriller or a more serious examination of how things happened the way they did. The filmmaker has taken an approach similar to Gus van Sant’s Elephant, avoiding gratuitous content or passing clear judgement or steering the moral compass. Some of the more unpleasant events that occur or only seen of the side while the camera hovers on incidental items around the room, such as a dirty sink or boxes of stock. 

The cast of characters is the typical group of fast food employees with the tired manager and snarky teens manning the counters and deep fryers it’s easy to familiarise yourself with the roles each person plays. It is effective in putting the audience in the situation and forces them to consider the scenario. It doesn’t put any emphasis on making any character sympathetic, even the victim, as the overhanging question is why they all let it go on as long as it did.


It’s a very well acted and performed movie that aims to leave the viewer feeling uncomfortable. It’s not a pleasant movie to watch by any stretch but you’ll have plenty to think about afterwards. The motivations of the caller don’t get explored, leaving the assumption to be perversion, leaving that particular plot thread unresolved. Sometimes that’s the best way to approach a true story.

Rating: 7 out of 10