"Horror." The label instantly reminds us of the twisted creations filmmakers have whipped up to terrify audiences from the early days of cinema. Vampires, torture chambers, Jason Voorhees, creepy blob creatures — the genre opens the door for a director's imagination to run wild. In turn, the creations do the same to the audience. What's in the closet of that abandoned cabin in the woods? Whatever you're afraid of.
After a scary horror movie, when the spine finally settles from all that tingling, there's a moment of relief. The hey-no-one-really-died-at-the-hands-of-a-knife-fingered-dream-ghost-killer-guy deep breath is the reason why slasher movies, gore fests, and spooky supernatural tales are fun, as opposed to truly terrifying. Genuine horror is achieved when there is no deep breath, which is exactly what makes Compliance 2012's most disturbing, shocking, and gratifying "horror" movie of the year. Craig Zobel sent a shockwave through Sundance when his latest feature played for the first time, evoking such a stirring emotion in its mild-mannered crowd that most write-ups of the film could, initially, only focus on the walkouts and violent criticisms during the Q&A. The immediate response shouted from the crowd was indicative of the general reaction: "Sundance, you can do better!" Compliance doesn't slap audiences with over-the-top, jaw-dropping shocks. Instead, it sticks to ugly truth, forcing people to ask questions about themselves. Really, really, really scary questions.
Based on actual events, Zobel's film chronicles one night at a midwestern fast food joint. The perfect place for a serial killer to trap his victims and pick them off one by one, no? Actually, no. In the case of Zobel's psychological docudrama, the mastermind behind the real life horrors never even steps foot in the restaurant. To work his evil, he just picks up the phone and dials. The film was adapted from a 2004 report in which 18-year-old girl was the victim of several acts of sexual abuse in the backroom of the the Kentucky McDonald's where she worked. The perpetrators were her manager and the manager's fiancee, both acting out orders from a policeman who told them that the teenager reportedly stole money from a customer. The twist: the policeman was no policeman, instead a prankster who called the manager in hopes of convincing her to enact his twisted plan. One would think logic (or better yet, the desperate cries of the teenage victim) would make the manager or fiancee question the "policeman" caller's identity, especially when strip searching becomes involved, but there was never a thought in either person's mind. Obeying the law — no matter how ludicrous — was the number one priority.
Horror films are often an exercise in style, invigorating simple material with flashy camera work or innovative production design to reap the feeling of freshness from viewers all-too-familiar with the tropes. Those recognizable attributes make Compliance difficult to categorize as a horror movie, but that's what it is at its core, albeit one stripped of theatrics. Zobel shoots his adaptation of the events (changing names, places and minor details) like a surgeon; every choice is deeply cinematic, but his restraint never allows it to creep into conventional horror territory. The fear grows organically as the darkest side of human nature is pulled back in three tremendous performers by the film's core trio. Ann Dowd, as the sweet, aging manager Sandra, who just wants to do the right thing from beginning to end. She's blinded by "Officer Daniels'" calm demeanor, the voice of actor Pat Healy, who plays a monster with a soothing voice. The assault on the teenage Becky is a slow, painful burn, actress Dreama Walker (Don't Trust the B) rightfully showing the character's attempts to also comply with the bizarre orders. She's eventually pushed to the tipping point, and the result is devastating.
No one wants to believe that human's possess the ability to do horrible things. In his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, psychology professor Philip Zimbardo unearthed the potential for regular joes to become instinctually violent, putting 24 university students in the roles of "prisoners" and "guards" and watching their hot-headed personalities culture like ravenous bacteria. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal raised similar questions about the potential of human action, including blunt, big picture inquiries like, "why?" and "how?" Compliance provokes that same line of thinking. It's a challenging film, but an example of the horror film at its best.
The next few months have a lot of potential gems in store for horror buffs, with the wild ghost tale The Possession right around the corner, the haunted house pic Sinister and a fourth Paranormal Activity scheduled for October. But Compliance is a true taste of horror outside-the-box, where that abandoned cabin closet is a real life person, and the terrifying mystery behind what lies behind the door is pure human emotion.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures]
Sundance 2012: Controversial 'The Comedy' Is Comedian Tim Heidecker's 'Taxi Driver'
'Possession': Jeffrey Dean Morgan Reads the Scariest Bedtime Story Ever — EXCLUSIVE CLIP
'Paranormal Activity 4' Trailer: The Ghosts Are on Your Skype Call
Sean Penn and Michael Moore picked up the big prizes at Tuesday's 17th annual Gotham Awards in New York.
Penn's Into the Wild won best feature and Moore's Sicko--an expose of U.S. healthcare--was awarded best documentary at a ceremony at Brooklyn's Steiner Studios.
The ceremony--which celebrates low-budget and art-house films--is held annually by nonprofit organization the Independent Feature Project.
Elsewhere, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, starring Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle, were joint winners in the Best Ensemble Cast category.
Juno actress Ellen Page won the Best Newcomer award; Great World of Sound director Craig Zobel won Breakthrough Director.
Guests at the star-studded bash included Martin Scorsese, Javier Bardem and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
COPYRIGHT 2007 WORLD ENTERTAINMENT NEWS NETWORK LTD. All Global Rights Reserved.
Martin (Pat Healy) gets a job at a record company complete with its own The Office-esque quirky characters: a Tony Robbins-esque boss trying to motivate his employees; a meek guy in a suit just trying to play by the rules; and finally Martin’s partner Clarence (Kene Holliday) an enthusiastic guy who raves about things as mundane as coffee. The job is to sign new artists who can make the company and the agents a fortune. However it requires a financial investment on the artists' part so the job really is to get the money from the aspiring artist. After learning the methods Martin and Clarence start auditioning acts hitting the road looking for more clients much to the chagrin of Martin’s wife (Rebecca Mader). When they discover an actual talent Martin shares the investment fee which obviously makes him vulnerable to the company's scheme. There are a few random inappropriate moments--as well as some pretty bad music acts--which provides socially awkward humor but none of this is laugh-out-loud material. The cast fully commit to this little film with fully realized performances. Healy is the working stiff who doesn’t question the bigger picture. Martin has issues with his wife he doesn't even recognize or articulate; he’s just all about maintaining the status quo. Holliday on the other hand is the more boisterous character. His Clarence is eccentric and the job allows his personality to focus on something. Some of Clarence’s freak-outs are a little bit too convenient as if the film is trying too hard for the laugh. Still Healy and Holliday as their characters clearly become more comfortable with each other as the film progresses showing the natural evolution of a partnership. Mader plays the ever-suffering spouse a truly supportive partner who's getting left out. You sympathize with her. Meanwhile the supporting players totally set up the world of the film especially John Baker as the boys' boss the ultimate salesman commanding his subordinates to do what he says. For his first feature director Craig Zobel has all the basics down. He cuts scenes together smoothly but some of the camera work tries to take advantage of handheld when it's really not necessary. Still it's never egregiously distracting. Zobel also gets the performances out of his actors. They all portray the characters the film designs. Where Great World of Sound falters is on how repetitive it is as the action goes through the rigmarole of auditioning bad singers and making the same pitch over and over. If the acts or the sales pitches were hilarious it would be perfectly fine to spend the whole movie there but ultimately they are just versions of the same idea. And the music is drab and monotonous probably on purpose but it gets irritating as the film progresses. Zobel does show potential however—we should watch out for his next effort.