Under the Radar?: “Compliance”


A frustrated fast food restaurant manager receives a call from the police regarding one of her young employees. She’s informed that the young girl has stolen from a customer earlier that day, and that the theft was witnessed by a surveillance team. Acquiescing to the police officer’s requests, the manager takes the girl into a back office, and eventually is talked into strip searching her.

Only, the caller isn’t a cop.

It might sound far-fetched, but the movie is based not only on an actual event, but an actual event within a rash of national events that took place over the course of a decade.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) manages a fast food restaurant. On a day when she has multiple issues on her hands (her employees left the freezer open the previous night and several hundred dollars of food spoiled, plus she’s expecting a surprise inspection), she receives a phone call from the police about an employee. The officer states that Becky (Dreama Walker), an attractive young cashier, stole money from a customer and that the victim is down at the police station filing a complaint. A team that was surveilling Becky (after previous complaints) witnessed the incident. He has the regional manager of the restaurant chain on the other line, and he wants her to bring the employee into the back room for questioning. The officer also talks Sandra into searching Becky, even to the extent of a strip search.

The problem is, the caller isn’t a police officer, he’s a pervert.

As the caller pushes the limits of what the restaurant employees are willing to do, and what the girl herself is willing to accept, the viewer is left to wonder how far things will go, and what the repercussions will be once the truth is revealed.

Compliance examines themes of authority and personal responsibility… the manager gets orders from a perceived authority, and accepts them with little or no questioning. The victim accepts orders as well. She’s given the phone at times to speak directly to the “police”, and of course, she’s given orders from the others on his behalf. Everyone involved accepts the flimsiest rationales, all on the basis that she’s talking to an officer of the law. In spite of the fact that she’s (and others) are being asked to do illogical and demeaning things to the girl, they act on them because that’s what they’re being told to do. Others, aware of the situation, turn a blind eye do to the fact it’s “none of their business”. Obviously, the film is a metaphor for how societies are led astray by people in positions of authority, and how disastrous, regrettable situations can occur.

What’s frightening is, it’s real…

Well scored, well-directed, and well acted, “Compliance” does a good job of creating a tense atmosphere. It’s a situation that’s bizarre and shameful, but illustrative of a weakness in the human condition. There are times when the situation gets extremely discomforting, but it’s necessary in order to convey the movie’s unflinching portrayal of the lengths people will go to in order to respect authority.


Daniel Fogarty

58 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Compliance”

    • It certainly is a discomforting movie, Nostra, there’s no doubt about it. At the same time though, its pretty well done, and has some bigger things to say in my opinion.

      That said, I understand where you’re coming from, its not an easy flick to watch! 😯

  1. Hi, that looks like an interesting one to check out – thanks for posting on it. I remember reading about these cases when they first hit the media and thinking they perhaps had some kind of parallel with the Stanford Prison Experiment in terms of humans’ obedience and compliance to any kind of authority. Great post!

    • Yeah, it’s got similar themes to explore, definitely. Shocking to me how easily these people acquiesced to the callers demands. Sad, too.

      Anyways, thanks, Indie. I hope you enjoy it if you do check it out!

  2. Ah, this movie! I remember reading Ebert’s review of this forever ago and telling myself I ought to see this… now several years later I find your review and… I still need to see this. Sounds incredibly creepy, and would seem like a total farce if not for the scary fact that this actually happened. Good review.

    • Thanks Jules, yeah, it is wicked creepy. You keep waiting for it to stop, you know? Not the movie, lol, what they’re doing….

      The fact that it happened definitely makes it all the scarier. You should give it a watch! 😯

  3. I watched the investigative reports episode about this real story shortly after my brother reviewed this film. It is even more insane than the film. Real crazy thing is, it was not the perp’s first or last time doing this.

    • No, I know. They couldn’t convict him, but supposedly there were like 70 instances! That’s… a lot! LOL 😯 Shocking, shocking stuff. You should check the movie out if you haven’t…

      • I for one am glad they have not caught me yet 😉

        I plan on checking it out at some point, but i started streaming ST:TNG so I am a little busy.

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