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Fool me once… – ★★

In the 1960s Stanley Milgram created an experiment to examine how people react and are obedient to authority. It involved administering an electric shock to a person in another room. He often found that many people were willing to put the dial the full way up even though they could hear screams coming from the other room. Milgram was trying to understand why the atrocities of the Holocaust were carried out by the likes of Adolf Eichmann.

Craig Zobel’s new film Compliance is an examination of this phenomenon. In America there were reportedly 70 similar cases to the one depicted here. The events all play out over the course of a few agonising hours. Ann Dowd plays Sandra the manger of a fast food chicken restaurant. She receives a call from the police to say one of her staff has been reported for stealing from a customer and all too easily plays along. Becky (Dreama Walker) is the staff member in question and is at a loss to try and convince her manager that she is innocent. The villain of the piece is the fake police Officer Daniels (Pat Healy), he has set the experiment in motion and inflicts untold stress and misery towards Becky all from the end of a phone.

Ann Dowd in Compliance

Hang up the damn phone…

For the first forty to fifty minutes of the film all that is going though your mind is how stupid the people are to believe Officer Daniels and his demands. Each seem more ludicrous than the next and we hope someone will appear with some old fashioned “cop on”. Unfortunately this is not the case and the film takes a very unnerving turn for the worse. While not being graphic or explicit, the film implies the torture Becky was subjected to under her false imprisonment. The tension and sense of unease created is impressive but makes for the most unpleasant of viewings this reviewer has seen in a long time. At times the scenes on the screen are unwatchable and I can understand people walking out from the film, there were one or two at the screening I attended.

You begin to wonder if Zobel’s film is a psychological experiment for us, to see how much we are willing to accept and sit through as Michael Haneke examined in his film(s) Funny Games. The event is based on a real event which happened in a McDonald’s back in 2004. This adds another element of horror to the piece as we can’t sooth ourselves by proclaiming, “it’s only a film” and are left reeling with the question of whether we would perform or be subjected to the same incidents.

Compliance is by no means a bad film, the production values are good and the acting is all top notch. The fact you feel sick to your stomach and on the verge of walking out is no small achievement. However I would never wish to see this film again and could not recommend it to people in all good faith. So if you still seem interested you can go and make your own mind up but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

USA  /  Directed By: Craig Zobel  /  Written By: Craig Zobel  /  Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy /  90min  /  Thriller, Drama  /  Release: 22 March 2013 (Ireland, UK)