Directed By: Craig Zobel

Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, and Pat Healy

With Killer Joe earlier this month, I thought I had seen the sickest stuff I would see this summer.  It's an NC-17 film, so there shouldn't really be anything else that can leave me in a cold, dejected state quite like that.  What could top what Matthew McConaughey's Joe did with a chicken leg from KFC?  Well, I found it in Craig Zobel's Compliance.  Apparently, sick, twisted prank phone calls are more unnerving than southerners willing to commit matricide.

At a little fast food joint in Ohio, restaurant manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) is having a tough day.  One of her employees left the freezer open last night, and $1,400 in bacon and pickles has spoiled.  To make matters worse, an inspector is coming to the restaurant as a secret shopper today, the busiest day of the week.  As things get under way, her day gets even more complicated.  She gets a call from a man referring to himself as Officer Daniels (Pat Healy).  He tells her that one of her employees, 19-year-old girl Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer and that his surveillance team has evidence that corroborates his witness's story. 

Now, Officer Daniels needs Sandra to step up and help at this critical juncture with searching and inspecting Becky and her belongings for the stolen money.  This will require strict compliance with his instructions.  What begins with a simple search of Becky's person and belongings escalates to strip searches and demoralizing sexual situations and ends in darkness.  All the while, this Officer Daniels gets a sick pleasure out of his prank phone call.

Compliance is a film about preying on weak-minded fools.  There's no way in hell this would ever happen to me via a prank phone call.  Send a cop with a badge and a gun my way, and we can talk business.  I can guarantee you there would be no stripping or naked jumping jacks.  That being said, I can't say that the plot of this film is ridiculous because it's based on a true story.  This is not a film where we can watch horrors unfold and then think that these same horrors could never happen in real life.  These horrors are true and have already happened.  In fact, there have been more than 70 cases like this in the US.  It's scary to think that there are that many fools out there.

Compliance is a very simple indie that hinges on two things — writer and director Craig Zobel's ability to bring horror to life in a very real way and the cast's ability to deliver powerful, yet restrained performances.  For his part, Zobel does a magnificent job as writer and director.  He understands the problem he faces as a filmmaker with his audience.  Viewers simply shouldn't be able to suspend their disbelief that a prank phone call can lead to such horrors.  To right this wrong, he brilliantly taps into the power of human connection and focuses on keeping a veil over Sandra's eyes.  He adds these somewhat innocuous moments where Sandra and Officer Daniels chat about mundane topics such as Sandra's stressful work day.  This caller ultimately builds a connection with Sandra that allows him to distract her from everything that's happening around her, mainly sick sexual crimes.  It's a clever move on the part of Zobel.

The actors in Compliance deliver deft performances full of subtle nuances.  This is a film where the acting hinges on facial expressions and body language.  Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker (Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, The Good Wife) really capture this better than any other cast members.  These are the two actresses who spend the most time on the phone with this sick individual referring to himself as Officer Daniels.  As Sandra, Dowd gives us a foolish store manager who tells all that's being said on the phone with Daniels without actually saying it.  Watching her facial expressions is like reading a book.  As Becky, Walker delivers a powerful, emotive performance as a scared, compliant teen.  Everything in her performance highlights fear and shame.  Her body language says it all.  What these actresses say is far less important than what they do and show on screen.  They give some incredible performances that highlight the importance of subtlety.

I've thought about this film for quite a while since I've seen it.  Compliance is certainly disturbing.  It's definitely unsettling.  Unquestionably, it is one outstanding thriller.  From the moment the film started and the music hit, I sat up in my chair and knew that I was in for one damn good movie.  Compliance gets a sober rating.  You may need a drink afterward though.  This is some rough stuff.