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Film / Compliance

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Compliance is a 2012 thriller film written and directed by Craig Zobel, based on an actual crime that occurred in a fast food restaurant in 2004.

During a busy evening shift at a typical fast food restaurant in Middle America, the restaurant's manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a call from a police officer with a complaint that a young female employee has stolen from a customer. Trusting in the officer's authority, Sandra takes the employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), into a back office and follows instructions to question her about a crime she denies knowing anything about.

Becky has done nothing wrong. And the man on the phone is not a police officer.

What follows is an hours-long nightmare in which Becky is subjected to increasingly unlawful and intrusive actions by people she trusts, all of whom are obeying the instructions of a mysterious voice at the other end of a phone line. By the time any of them stop to question the situation, the unthinkable has already occurred.

Tropes shown in the film:

  • Based on a True Story: The names are changed, but a lot of the details are true to fact.
  • Bland-Name Product: The storyline may not be fictitious, but ChickWich obviously is.
  • Blind Obedience: Sandra follows the orders of the caller without stopping the details.
  • Bottle Episode: Almost the entire film takes place in the back office of the ChickWich.
  • Burger Fool: All this takes place in a fast food restaurant staffed with a bunch of gullible people.
  • Call-Back: Sandra mentions during her morning meeting that one team member is out sick due to a bug going around. In the end, her manager tells her that he's out sick with the bug that's going around.
  • Central Theme: As you might guess from the title, but the theme is compliance to authority:
    • Sandra struggles to get her unruly employees to obey her and act professionally.
    • The caller claims that he is a police officer and requires Sandra to obey his authority.
    • The caller tells Sandra that her own manager, whom he names, has ordered her to obey him.
    • Sandra convinces her employees to obey her authority by following the caller's instructions.
    • In the beginning of the film, Sandra's fiance calls to ask her permission to hang out with his friends. Later, she summons him away from his friends, in spite of the fact that he's drunk, to help her with the caller, which he obeys.
    • Sandra's first act of rebellion against the caller is to speak to her own manager to make sure he really wants her to obey the caller.
  • Cold Reading: The caller engages in this by implying that he has knowledge to prompt people to volunteer information, and then acting like he already had that information.
    • He gives Sandra the generic description of a slim blonde female employee. Becky happens to fit the description.
    • He slips up when he threatens Becky with her criminal history, but she counters that she has no criminal history.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Sandra's first few scenes establish that she's a crummy manager. One of her employees has left the freezer open and ruins the bacon, which gets her yelled at by the delivery man. All of her employees are lackadaisical at best and passively defiant at worst. After attempting to be chummy with them, she leaves and immediately overhears them mocking her behind her back.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The caller, who manipulated people into having a young woman raped at his orders (after she's been stripped and humiliated), is shown happily speaking with his small daughter.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: A few nightmarish hours at a fast-food restaurant.
  • Fan Disservice: Becky is stripped naked in the back of a restaurant, spanked, sexually abused, and humiliated.
  • Foreshadowing: We see a brief shot of the perpetrator sticking quarters into a pay phone and snapping at someone on the phone long before the reveal that he's the caller.
  • Impersonating an Officer: What the sicko on the phone is doing.
  • Just Following Orders: The caller repeatedly tells Sandra that he takes full responsibility for whatever happens, which is a prime motivator for getting her to obey his authority. Her authority then gives additional weight to the caller when she hands the phone to others and tells them to obey him.
  • Kinky Spanking: Invoked by the man on the phone, who gets Van to spank Becky.
  • Leave the Camera Running: We get a very long shot following Sandra out to her car to deposit the clothes, gathering up junk from her car, throwing the junk away, and returning to the restaurant. In the final act, we get another very long shot of the real detective driving to the scene of the crime while smoking a cigarette. Given that the film is just under 90 minutes, including credits, these were probably included to fill out a little time.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Right after being told by the "officer" to spank Becky and then have her give him oral sex, Sandra's fiancee leaves the restaurant clearly shell-shocked at what just happened, calls his best friend, and says, "I just did a horrible thing." This is exactly what happened in real life.
  • Never My Fault: Sandra, the manager who obediently mistreated Becky, tries to present herself as a victim as well during the end interview.
  • Only Sane Man: The maintenance man for the restaurant is the only person to openly question the validity of the caller.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: Various people keep giving Becky an apron to wear to cover herself. The "officer" keeps telling whoever gets involved next to have her take it off again.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Generally the biggest criticism you'll find about the film is how far it took things and how any sane person would have stopped long before forcing a teen to perform oral sex on them at a supposed police officer's request. However, these details were not in fact fabricated.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: This is a barely fictionalized account of an actual crime that took place on April 9, 2004 at a McDonald's in Mount Washington, Kentucky.
  • Shameful Strip: The first stage of the caller's plan is to convince people to strip a young woman against her will and describe her to him. Things only get more degrading from there.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: The caller can be seen sipping from a soda and making himself a sandwich while he manipulates his victims.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The perpetrator is a completely normal-looking suburban dad.