Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Just Knew It Was Going to Happen

Being human is weird. Some stuff disturbs me and I don't quite know why. I get mega creeped out by bodybuilders, opossums, and semi-trucks.

In the age that I live in, the monsters that scare me the most are those who take advantage of others out of a morbid sadism. This train of thought first began for me years ago when I began to imagine who invented junk mail, telemarketing, spam emails, or who turned those channels into agents of malicious harassment. This generated no answers.

Even more recently I learned that a friend of mine used to engage in elaborate prank calls in his teens. I won't go into detail, but I (a little shamefully) must admit that it altered my view of him as a person. Timid as I am, I can't accept how some people exploit the misery of others for their own sick amusement.

Prank calling has never creeped me out more after watching Compliance (2012, Craig Zobel).

Does anyone remember Bye Bye Love (1995, Sam Weisman)? It was the first movie I saw that took place in a McDonald's and I freaked. That's all I remember about the movie because anytime the action took place at the McDonald's, I was riveted by the chance to glimpse backstage. I don't know why this was the only time that happened--I was nonplussed by McDowell's in Coming to America (1988, John Landis), I have yet to see Goodburger (1997, Brian Robbins), Waiting... (2005, Rob McKittrick) looked too invested in a certain type of disgruntled comedy that never seemed worth watching.

But Compliance takes care to craft the world of ChickWich with the utmost attention to detail. The first act introduces us to the fast food restaurant and its assortment of workers. They are individuals, each fleshed out in their own way (oops, pun). There's Harold the custodian, who abstains from his shift meal--undoubtedly due to its poor nutritional or dietary quality. And this is effective because I myself was already thinking about how gross fast food is. And later in a gruellingly uncomfortable scene Sandra (Ann Dowd) offers some of the people waiting soft drinks, and a couple of them ask for, "Diet Coke."

The second act is the bulk of the narrative and it feels too long. The frustration is inescapable. It finds Becky (Dreama Walker) the victim of a strip search that harrows into increasingly bizarre ordeals she must suffer. But this is intentional.

The third act makes up for the second. Zobel orchestrates his sociological case-drama with just the right beats. What seemed like impossibly dim character motivations in the second act become more palatable. We reflect on their mistakes, which become less improbable, just as the demands taxed on them hit a crescendo of respite.

The acts of transgression toward Becky visually resemble something of a modern day Salò (1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini). And the libertine decadence of inflicting such horrid demands on her gives the film some link to timeless themes.
Compliance felt like a true horror to me. Because this is the kind of stuff that really scares me: grimy fast food restaurants resembling dungeons being turned into real dungeons of human depravity and debacle. But Zobel's Milgram discourse saves the film from being nothing more than torture. Good. I can't stand those films that are nothing more than evil deeds for the sake of evil; like, Breakdown (1997, Jonathan Mostow) for example--J.T. Walsh's character is truly frightening, but that's a little thin to sustain a feature narrative.
Most of the film features little music, but the cello on the score punctuates and underscores the movie tastefully. The cinematography is always looking for nuances in the location in service of atmospheric verisimilitude.
If someone asks you to do something super fucked up, think twice before you comply!

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