“You may have already heard about Craig Zobel’s Compliance – or more likely about the audience walk-outs that it received,” writes Charlotte Rowland in our latest film review.
She has a point here. After its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January, the film became notorious for dividing the audiences into those who laud it for an uncompromising portrayal of darkest sides of ‘human nature’ and those who storm out of the screenings, murmuring “What a piece of shit!” under their breath or even less discreetly.
As Charlotte testifies, the same thing happened during Compliance‘s screening at the 56th London Film Festival last month. Despite not enjoying herself too much (“I’d like to pretend I never saw Compliance,” she says), Charlotte sat through this torturous flick and is more than keen ton share her impressions with us, “if only to dispel this air of controversy”.
Onscreen representations of violence against and abuse of women and other vulnerable people is a controversial subject in itself, concerning among others the need for sensitive trigger warnings we blogged about before. Some critics opt for no graphic depictions of the acts of abuse whatsoever (as triggering and also potentially arousing and thus inflicting more harm) while others believe that precisely because these atrocities happen, they should be documented. Charlotte again:
“In principle, I agree with this sentiment. Sometimes the most troubling subject matter should be highlighted through the medium of film. That is, if it is done properly. Given the general response from critics, I sat down to watch Compliance with a fairly open mind. When Sandra picks up the phone from the pretend police officer, we hear his words and tone of voice as she does. It is immediately an uncomfortable experience, but one that at this point you still feel you can analyse. A number of times he emphasises: “I have to take the full, final responsibility for this, and I take that very seriously,” echoing findings from the Milgram experiment, which tested participants’ obedience to authority figures.”
Charlotte’s final verdict is however damning:
“When making a film, you have responsibility to handle your subject matter sensitively. Advertised as a thriller, with the tension building up to whether or not a girl will be abused and how far they will take that abuse, Compliance strayed well beyond being insensitive to being sinister.”