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Compliance

McJob monotony turns a softheaded group of employees into exploited sex objects—McIdiots?—in Craig Zobel’s powder keg of a one-location drama. (Audience rage spilled into postscreening Q&As at Sundance, yet the script is based largely on a real-life incident.) Becky (Dreama Walker) is the blond Ohio countergirl at fictional chain ChickWich; blithely, she shares TMI about her ripped boyfriends, while middle-aged supervisor Sandra (the absorbingly blank Ann Dowd) takes her knocks in half-heard whispers. When a phone call comes in from a police officer conveying the charge that Becky’s been stealing, Sandra shifts into corporate-zombie mode, taking her defiant employee to the office to perform a strip search and worse.

You can’t believe what you’re watching: Compliance, true to its title, digs into the rarely explored subject of psychological acquiescence (behavioral scientist Stanley Milgram should get a cowriting credit), with common-sense dignity being the first casualty. Perhaps hot for escalation, Zobel bobbles a few of the details: Too soon in the film do we learn that the call is a prank—whereas withholding the info might have made us dupes, too—and some of the nudity comes within shouting distance of exploitation. But the movie’s frightening momentum can’t be denied; indeed, it’s the whole point. When critical thinking is reduced to numbered choices on a value menu, we’ll turn ourselves into the final meal.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Release details

Rated: R
Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Dreama Walker
Pat Healy
Ann Dowd