Here’s what happens in Compliance: A man calls a fast-food restaurant and tells the manager that he’s a cop and that an employee has stolen from a customer. Before the end of the movie (now in limited release), the caller (Pat Healy) persuades the manager (Ann Dowd) to strip-search the suspect (Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23‘s Dreama Walker). He also talks Walker’s character into committing a sexual act.
Think the premise sounds unbelievable? Writer-director Craig Zobel’s under–$1 million feature is based on a real incident from 2004, when an 18-year-old employee at a McDonald’s in Kentucky was detained, stripped, and sexually assaulted on the instructions of a caller pretending to be a policeman. A prison guard in Florida, who the cops believed made the call, was charged with soliciting a sex act and impersonating a police officer, but was acquitted at his 2006 trial. Meanwhile, the restaurant manager received a year’s probation, and her fiancé, who helped guard the employee, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and unlawful imprisonment, and got a five-year jail sentence. As for the victim, in 2007 a jury ordered McDonald’s to pay her more than $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. But the company appealed, and she eventually settled for an undisclosed sum.
Compliance, which features Walker in various states of undress, caused a brouhaha when it screened at Sundance earlier this year. ”The film is certainly challenging to some people,” admits Zobel, who recently signed on to direct Tobey Maguire in the science-fiction movie Z for Zachariah. ”I was incredibly conscious of trying not to be exploitative, but I felt it was a valuable thing to have [the nudity] so it’s in your head — people are getting naked because of a guy on the phone. That needed to feel uncomfortable.”
Zobel isn’t worried about the possibility of a viewer copying the despicable crimes of Healy’s character, despite the fact that no one was ever convicted for making the call in real life. ”I hope the movie, in a way, isn’t pleasant enough to be something that someone would want to be involved in,” he says. ”And you’d have to be a pretty devoted perv.”