I’m the first to admit that my tastes in movies run similar to my tastes in television and also candy. The sticky-sickly-sweeter the better. I like my dialogue to drip with drama and adjectives, I want everyone to sleep with everyone else and I want each and every death scene to involve both a montage and a Nickelback lyric. I know, I know. Some people just want to watch the world burn.
Last week, I saw Compliance (due to a booking error, so I can only blame Odeon cinemas for everything that follows), and it met none of my basic requirements.
Two people walked out of the cinema 50 minutes in, a man towing a woman by the hand, and I would have been the third, had I not been hemmed in by the long thighs of a colleague and a large bag of Maltesers. The only film ever to make me feel those same levels of disgust, anger and over-whelming bitter empathy was Saw (don’t even ASK me what combinations of circumstance led to me to watch that particular gem). Not even the fact that the main character gained fame as one of Blair Waldorf’s coterie in Gossip Girl could pull me out of events.
Have you read about it? It’s received some striking reviews. A large percentage of the audience at Cannes walked out, and it has been decried for unapologetically aiming for the knockout punch. From a movie like that, you’d expect violence, pain, abuse, masochism.
But that’s the masterstroke – when you get down to it, there’s nothing to complain about, not really. There’s no blood. There’s no visible nor audible pain. Bambi’s mother doesn’t die.
The film takes place in a fast-food restaurant in some nondescript American town. There’s a bosomy manager, an ugly uniform, and a bunch of young employees rolling their eyes as they package the chicken. One pair take centre-screen early on, a little blonde and her taller partner, late for their shift, a little sassy, a little too young and a little too pretty for the setting. There’s some chat about sexting, a bit of embarrassment for the manager. Par for the course for anyone who’s spent any time in the business of purveying animal bits for consumption. The scene is set. I want some chicken.
Then there’s a call from a police officer, stating that Becky, our chatty blonde with a sparkly cell-phone, has been caught on camera stealing money from the handbag of a customer. With Sandra, the harried manager, on the other end of the line, he requests that Becky be detained, and her pockets and handbag searched. He states that the police are busy elsewhere, and will be down to continue proceedings later, but that Sandra would be helpful, perfect, law-abiding, and all-American if she kicked things off herself. Sandra is hesitant. She’s keen to follow company policy, and she’s keen to help the officer. There’s also a hint of something else, blame in her eyes when she looks at Becky. Despite fervent protestations from the 19-year-old, coupled with empty pockets and an empty handbag, Sandra’s allegiances are clear.
It was at about this point that I stopped eating my popcorn.
I’m not going to spoil it for you, and if you want to see it (don’t see it, don’t see it) it’s important that the twists and turns that follow remain a surprise.
But the most important fact to keep in mind as you take your seat in the cinema (if you must go, go with a best friend who will understand why you don’t want to touch anyone, ever again, after the movie ends, for God’s sake don’t take a date unless you’re into the idea of a sexless relationship) is that it’s true. It happened. And – quite apart from the single event that, thanks to CCTV footage, this film exactly replicates – it happened no less than 70 times across America.
The theme of the film is summed up by the title, and studies the lengths we will go to, the things we will do, if instructed by an authority. Trading in on the Miligram Experiment, at the heart of the movie lies just one fact: in those circumstances, would you do the same? And if you leave the stomach feeling as physically ill as I did, it’s because your sub-conscious came up with only one answer: yes.
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