Craig Zobel understands that his new film, “Compliance,” makes audiences uncomfortable to the point of creeping them out. That’s kind of the point, the filmmaker says.
“There is that line,” Zobel says. “Obviously, it’s not ideal if you make something that disturbs people so much that they walk out. But this film needed to be challenging. It’s an important story because of how dark it goes. What scares me is that whole idea of who we think we are and who we are when put in a situation like this.”
Based on actual cases, “Compliance” is a fiction film essentially shot on one small set: a mock-up of a fast-food restaurant. The film deals with the manager of a fast-food restaurant (and her employees) who are manipulated by a caller claiming to be a police officer – who tells them that a young female employee has been accused of stealing from a customer. More to the point, he wants the manager to hold her until he gets there and, in the meantime, conduct a thorough search of the young woman. A strip-search.
Aside from the actual incidents (of which there were dozens), Zobel also drew on the Stanford prison experiments (which cast students as guards or prisoners, then revealed just how far the guards would go in dehumanizing the prisoners) and the Stanley Milgram experiments (in which people were instructed to shock subjects who delivered wrong answers).
Zobel still isn’t sure whether anyone can guard against a situation like this one: “That scares me – and that makes it an interesting place to talk about in an artistic way.”