starring Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp
written and directed by Craig Zobel
by Walter Chaw Craig Zobel's Compliance comes with a payload of controversy trailing from a notorious Sundance screening where various audience members registered their displeasure in a post-film Q&A--going so far, if reports are to be trusted, as to sexually harass lead actress Dreama Walker in one of the more ironic attempts at defending her honour. I've said it before (and it's only gotten worse), I prefer to watch a movie with a mainstream, middlebrow audience than with any festival audience under any circumstance. Sure, they applaud Michael Bay movies, but at least they don't act like their shit don't stink. Thinking back, there's the example of Sundance's old-lady reaction to Lucky McKee's The Woman, a movie that, upon closer inspection, reveals itself as shocking in neither its execution nor its conception--it's just not that controversial, and its backlash demonstrates the kind of knee-jerk liberalism that venerates easy stuff like Rabbit-Proof Fence. If you declare yourself a feminist outraged by a film that is so clearly also feminist, you identify yourself as a fucking moron and an asshole to boot. Sundance confirms the middlebrow; it celebrates uncomplicated messages wrapped in indie-glamour. When was the last time Sundance pushed something like, say, Valhalla Rising, or Synecdoche, New York? Something difficult, something remarkable, something festivals like it are supposed to champion? Or is the modus for the festival meaningless garbage that congratulates its audience for making easy connections like Beasts of the Southern Wild and anything starring John Hawkes. Fish Tank? Winter's Bone? So Compliance, which would never be mistaken for something transcendent and enduring, is actually more interesting than it first appears not only for a couple of the decisions it makes, but also for the degree to which its audience is pulled into identification with the picture's bland torturers. It's a Milgram Experiment for the viewer.