From 1995 to 2004, 64 mysterious calls were placed to several fast food chains and restaurants across 30 states. Claiming to be a police officer, the caller would request that a series of perverse actions be carried out.
"Compliance" largely draws from an incident that occurred in a McDonalds in Mount Washington, Ky., in 2004. Donna Summers, the restaurant's assistant manager, received a call from a man who identified himself as a policeman. Summers was informed that one of her employees, eighteen-year-old Louise Ogborn, had stolen a customer's purse. The caller instructed her to lock Ogborn in a room and strip search her until the authorities arrived. Shockingly, Summers went along with the man's demands-even as they grew more and more bizarre.
Shockingly, three additional employees witnessed what was going on and did nothing to stop it. Summers was told to seek help from her fiancée, Walter Nix, who she eventually left alone with Ogborn. Following the caller's orders, Nix sexually assaulted the young woman.
Though the teen sobbed and begged to be let go, she was held captive for almost four hours before her manager realized the entire ordeal was a hoax.
After reading about the unsettling McDonalds occurrence, Zobel became invested in retelling the story in a way that was reflective of universal themes.
"It's the kind of story that's a blip, a headline you read and go, 'Wow, that's crazy,'" the writer/director told the New York Times. "Then you say, 'That would never happen to me' and move on. But I was thinking more and more about it, and it seemed to encompass a lot of things about people's relationship with authority."
The film was also inspired by well-known psychological case studies, such as the Stanford Prison Experiment, Stanley Milgram's controversial studyon obedience, and the murder of Kitty Genovese -- the definitive example of what is known as 'bystander effect'.
Much of the film's plot mirrors the real case. The film is set in a ChickWich, a fictional establishment, where Sandra (Ann Dowd), the eatery's manager, interrogates a young cashier, Becky (Dreama Walker). The majority of the film takes place in the claustrophobic changing room, where Becky is forced to stay.
"Compliance" has caused quite a stir since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Various audience members walked out of the film's Sundance screening. Those that stayed either booed or cheered when the film ended.
According to the Huffington Post, during a recent New York screening, several women were unable to make it through the film.
"'[A] woman stood up, yelled out, 'Give me a [expletive] break,' and walked out of the theater. As the film progressed, other women joined her."
The outlet concludes that the film is difficult to stomach mainly because of the ignorance demonstrated by the characters.
"The most unsettling part of 'Compliance' (or rather, one of about a million unsettling parts -- really the whole movie is one long, unsettling part) is that, from an outsider's perspective, the whole escalation could have easily been avoided."