Compliance Review


Based on true events, Compliance tells the unsettling account of how far some people may go to obey an apparent authority figure. On a busy day in an average fast food joint, manager Sandra receives a phone call from a police officer accusing a young female employee of stealing money from a customer. Convinced she is duly following procedure Sandra commences with the step-by-step investigation on behalf of the caller no matter how invasive it becomes.

The characters in Compliance walk a blurry line between victim and perpetrator. Director Craig Zobel wisely refrains from brashly transforming his characters into knee jerk parodies or monsters. He rightfully induces a level of ugly and tense discomfort that warrants a fair amount of seat squirming or awkward laughter, but manages to achieve this without getting schlocky, instead simply utilizing the story’s biggest shock tactic, that of staggering blinkered obedience. It’s refreshing to have mere human flaws provide the real horror. Zobel subtly captures why fast-food chains were the prime target of the twisted hoaxer. The hierarchy in the service industry (particularly in the U.S mould) is drowned in petty rules alongside frustrated rank and file. Add to that minimal wages and the rigid environment inbreeds an unquestioning adherence to the powers that be. Emphasising a setting where monotone consistency is encouraged and individual instinct is frowned upon for risk of disruption leads to the situation being all the more plausible.

Ann Dowd gives a bittersweet and measured performance as the restaurant manager Sandra, who is front line of the hoaxer’s coercion, she by no means begs for empathy but is tactile enough to avoid being too demonised. Dreama Walker similarly plays Becky the victim of the bizarre crimes well, as an initially confident teen that is rendered despondent over the course of the film, maintaining the quick fear of immaturity in the face of well spoken authority. The handling of every character isn’t quite flawless, there are a couple of shakier portrayals that run a little on the weaker side but I suspect these hiccups lay within the tricky adaptation process. For the majority though the film is well-handled, avoiding cheap hysteria or explicitness makes the reality of the events further deplorable and dare I say relatable. These people were not psychologically strong-armed so much as manipulated through fear and flattery, causing an eerily assumed politeness that is perfectly illustrated come Sandra’s final scene. The phantom cop is charismatically played by the ever wonderful Pat Healy and used in a restrained fashion that is beneficial, keeping him suitably shrouded largely as a voice on the other end of the phone and interspersed with real-time domestic appearances that present an approachable balance between the enigmatic power he wields and the perverse prankster with too much time on his hands that he ultimately is. As an audience we get all that we need from him, everything that unfolds does of course present larger questions about why and how he managed to commit these long distance abuses but as in real life we rarely have coherent answers to these questions conveniently delivered to us.

Any voyeuristic moments are dutifully sterile and completely within context, providing a sense that had this film been in the hands of another young director they’d have possibly capitalised more on the leering scenes, dragging them out beyond the point of impact and probing past the realms of taste. It’s a frank relief that an upstart horror film maker with something to prove never laid his sticky hands on the premise. Whilst skilfully constructed and statically riveting, Compliance is easier to conclude as bleakly intriguing rather than darkly entertaining and it is perhaps advisable to approach it as such. The film is an admirable undertaking and although half of the tension is achieved by it being based on actual events that wouldn’t have been an easy thing to insure and overall it skews a fall into exploitation. A distinct lack of sensationalism or moralising nicely shows the thought behind the scenes that make it a recommendation for anyone wanting to leave a film reflective, perplexed and kind of needing a shower.

(March 2013)


The Innkeepers Review


For a film involving themes of death and lack of hope Ti Wests’ The Innkeepers makes for one intense breathe of fresh air. In the genre wastelands where mediocre repetition abounds this restrained but confident film virtually towers over most recent horrors, not through FX or shock gimmickry but through smart characters, dialogue and atmosphere.

In the last few day of a historic small town hotel, the two bored remaining employees set to unravel the hotels allegedly haunted past. (I’ll refrain from revealing much else so as not to spoil). From what is a somewhat formulaic set up unfolds as a sincere and intimate piece rife with snappy comedy and some neat if mild creepy jolts. The Innkeepers bypasses falling into an increasingly common trap of writing smart-mouth hipsters that often invite contempt from audiences by being too consciously aware, thankfully here we have two realistically fed up people (sarcastic yes, but not exactly rolling with the in-crowd) who are genuinely empathetic and fast giving up (on interactions, ambition and their own interests). Pat Healy and Sara Paxton are solidly cast, bringing a very believable companionship born through the go-nowhere setting of a barely tolerable job, an element that even I wouldn’t have assumed would play so brilliantly as the backbone of a paranormal horror! The pair’s bored lack of direction is so relatable and well-played that when it becomes a sort of reflection or instigation for some of the eerie goings on that we are right there with the two during the creepier turns. Their determination to experience ‘something’, even if it is supernatural rather than a more rational life achievement, becomes quite understandable and underpins proceedings uniquely. With gently barbed banter that is played with conviction and feels very natural, it certainly helps that both our leads are capable of being funny and generally fit in with the whole premise seamlessly.
I really liked House of the Devil, Ti West’s prior stand out film which lends itself to his emerging and welcome personal style, I’m not entirely sure if you enjoy one you’ll guaranteed to enjoy both, but there is a similar stripped back patience that links the two films, both relying nicely on subtle detail, creeping tone and personality. Special films are still far and few between in horror so although not a flawless film it definitely is a special one, it also reminded me of how pleased I was watching Session 9 and Burning Bright, two films which never received cinema releases but are both special in their efforts to show something different through human reaction and imaginative dread, forgoing predictable tropes and triviality. I don’t like the obligatory disclaimers about a horror’s lack of gore or shock in a review, as if a film lives or dies by how much blood is shed, frankly (and speaking as lover of watching unholy amounts of the red stuff) who needs guts when you’ve got a sharp and relatable script performed by a strong cast with the support of a director who just seems to get it? A wonderfully balanced and entertaining film that knows its strength’s and pushes them forth with insight and humour.

(May 2012)