By the time "Compliance" hit theaters on Friday, the film was already being refered to as "disturbing" and "provocative."
The script was inspired by a 2004 incident that took place at a McDonalds in Mount Washington, Ky. During a busy evening, the eatery's manager, Donna Summers, received a call from a man claiming to be a police officer who informed her that one of her employees, eighteen-year-old Louise Ogborn, had stolen money from a customer. Following the caller's instructions, Summers held Ogborn captive for nearly four hours, strip searched her, and left her to be sexually assaulted.
It was later discovered that from 1992 to 2004, 70 similar calls were placed to fast food chains and restaurants in 30 states.
"Compliance" draws heavily from the unsettling case and many have found the film difficult to stomach. It takes place on a hectic Friday night at a ChickWich where Sandra (Ann Dowd), the restaurant's manager, interrogates a young cashier, Becky (Dreama Walker) following a call from a "policeman." Much of the film is set in the claustrophobic changing room, where Becky is held captive.
Reports have surfaced of audience members either booing, cheering, or walking out during screenings. Yet following the film's opening at New York's Sunshine Cinemas, the audience applauded politely and calmly engaged in a Q&A with director Craig Zobel.
The film is a gripping illustration of ignorance and how refusing to question authority can be dangerous.
"My initial reaction was, 'I would never do something like that,'" said Zobel following the film's premiere. "Then a few days later the fact that it happened so many times made me realize that (the case) may be something bigger than that. It was more of a human behavior thing."
One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the different degrees of compliance that each character demonstrates.
"I narrowed down the different reactions that the characters had to the incident," Zobel explained. "What was their relationship to the victim, authority figures, their boss and how that would play in different dynamics. Ultimately, none of them stopped it but for different reasons."
The writer director was inspired by Stanley Milgram's controversial study on how individuals respond to authority. For this reason, Zobel is empathetic towards those that were duped by the mysterious caller--who deputized them.
"I made this movie because I had questions," he said. "What I've taken away from talking about this film is that we have moral instruments that we use all day. We know when something is good, we know when something is bad, and we make decisions without thinking about them at all. The unfortunate thing is that there are people that can give you a false reading."
"Compliance" is now playing in select cities.