Compliance (3 stars)


Frustrating drama reconstructing the infamous Mount Washington strip-search incident

Writer/director Craig Zobel’s indie drama is a low-key reconstruction of the infamous Mount Washington McDonald’s strip-search incident, one of a series attributed to an anonymous prank-caller. Zobel makes a bold decision not to address any wider picture, or even consider what motives might have been involved; his film is focused entirely on a meticulous recreation of the victims’ behaviour, now relocated to a fictional fast-food chain.

Becky (Dreama Walker) is an attractive teenager whose monotonous workday behind the counter is interrupted when her boss Sandra (Ann Dowd) summons her into the back office. Sandra is on the phone to a caller who claims to be a police officer, and who suggests that he has evidence that Becky has been stealing money from the restaurant’s patrons. Becky denies this, but under the orders of ‘Officer Daniels’ (Pat Healy), Sandra allows Becky to be strip-searched in the hope of discovering stolen money. With none of the other employees willing to question the authority of the bogus policeman, Becky is subjected to a further series of sexual humiliations.

The content of Compliance is hard to stomach, not just because Zobel’s camera is so firmly concerned with meticulously detailing the sexual degrading of an innocent woman. It’s also a frustrating watch; if the case wasn’t so well documented, it would seem improbable that Becky’s co-workers could act with such blind compliance; the prank seems so obvious from the start.

Compliance makes one forceful point; that there should be no shame in thinking for yourself and questioning authority, and unshowy performances from the cast certainly help get the cautionary message across. But a few moments spent researching the real-life case reveals information much more interesting that the film actually contains; by choosing to focus only on the initial incident, Zobel’s film shocks, but leaves the viewer to uncover the real story for themselves.

Limited release from Fri 22 Mar.

Compliance Trailer (Official HD Trailer from Magnolia Pictures)


  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 30min
  • Directed by: Craig Zobel
  • Written by: Craig Zobel
  • Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
  • UK release: 22 March 2013

Fictional reconstruction of a real incident, in which an anonymous caller posing as a cop persuaded the manager of a fast-food outlet to strip-search a female employee. Despite good, unshowy performances, Zobel's decision to concentrate on the initial incident makes its point about the need to question authority, but…