There’s True Crime, and then there’s True Prank. And when it comes to the cinema world, both sub-genres of film, which champion a kind of juiced-up pseudo-documentary, use reality as a performance enhancing steroid.
“Based on a True Story”: preface a taut little murder tale with these words, and what would be an innocent thriller suddenly becomes a chilling, squirm-inducing indictment—evidence to some horror that ACTUALLY HAPPENED. (See last year’s ghastly, fawned-over The Snowtown Murders, which tells the tale of Australia’s worst serial killer.) Same goes with True Prank. We cringe at Borat because Sacha Baron Cohen truly did stalk Pamela Anderson.
The take away? “Real events” make atrocities more atrocious and goofs more audacious, usually to a gut-punching degree. And both combine in Compliance, one of the most notorious and controversial indie films in recent memory, which enjoys its local premiere tonight at the Lagoon. If you’re a movie masochist, you need to be abused by this flick.
In case you haven’t heard, Craig Zobel’s second film triggered screaming, boos, and accusations of misogyny at its Sundance debut. Why? Because good people do terrible things to an innocent 19-year-old girl in a back room of a fast-food restaurant.
The plot tells the—again, Based-on-Actual-Events—story of a viscous, depraved criminal hoax. On a busy Friday night, a fast-food manager gets a phone call from someone pretending to be a cop, informing her that one of her cashiers has ripped off a customer. The caller persuades the manager to be a good citizen and detain the employee. Soon, the caller has the manager, along with other employees, enact a series of escalating abuses to the young girl, beginning with a strip search and progressively getting more perverse.
The question here is old-saw Psych 101 stuff: how far are we willing to go to follow orders from an authority figure? Are we intrinsically programmed for obedience? And what would it take for us to stand up and say, “No”? It’s the Neuremberg trials; the Stanley Milgram experiment. You know the drill.
Except, again, this ACTUALLY HAPPENED. And so Zobel’s film becomes a nightmarish—and, on preview, sensitively handled—crash course to real, bonafide human evil.
Can you handle it? Many viewers can’t. But just as many reviewers are calling it the best film of the year.
Check it out tonight, and decide for yourself.