Based on real events, Compliance follows a shift at a fast food restaurant that falls victim to a manipulative and cruel prank caller. On the face of it, that shouldn’t lead to such visceral and extreme reactions, and yet the movie is so accomplished that it stands alongside We Need to Talk About Kevin in terms of uncomfortable viewing.
Performances are solid, with particularly impressive turns from Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker, but where the film really triumphs is the script. Every line, action and moment emphasises the movie’s core theme of control. It builds tension between the key players in the restaurant as successfully as it builds trust between the caller and Dowd’s manager, and it does so in a genuinely believable manner.
One of the best decisions writer/director Craig Zobel makes is to force his audience to reflect on the most extreme moments of the film with extended transition shots. It’s uncomfortable viewing but stunningly effective, as is the soundtrack.
That said, for some people at least, Compliance is a hard movie to watch. Even if you can acknowledge the brilliance of the filmmaking involved, it may be too much to stomach. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen, but don’t be surprised to find yourself shouting at your TV while you’re watching it.
Sadly, the extras on the DVD don’t stand up to the quality of the movie. There’s a trailer and a two minute long behind-the-scenes featurette, and that’s it. In fairness, the featurette gives more information in its two minutes than many do in half an hour, but it’s a little underwhelming.
Having recently split from her husband, Maddie (Ramlah Fredaini) is looking for a fresh start. She soon finds a house she can afford and relocates to the suburbs with her son, Jonah (Charlie Koudsi), who is both mute and autistic. When Maddie is attacked in the shower on her first morning in the new house, she at first blames Jonah, fearing that the change in routine may be causing him to act out. When she then encounters a naked apparition from her son’s drawings, however, Maddie is forced to accept that there is more going on in her new residence than she could ever begin to explain.
Written and directed by Adam Lamas, who last helmed Cry Havoc back in 1999, Empty Rooms is a surprisingly effective straight-to-DVD chiller. Refreshingly (whether by design or as a result of budgetary constraints), the film foregoes a number of the genre’s more cliched conventions. The new house, for example, is unusually unsuspicious in appearance, and doesn’t leave you questioning the family’s intelligence for agreeing to move in. While the resident evil is intrinsically threatening, the ghoul’s nakedness proving far more unsettling than any weapon or mask. Ultimately, however, it’s the film’s leading lady who proves its biggest asset. Frediani’s Maddie is surprisingly sympathetic, her parental and marital troubles making her more interesting than your average scream queen, while Koudsi is sufficiently convincing as Jonah, who spends much of the movie cowering in a tumble dryer in the building’s basement.
Although not exactly revelatory, Empty Rooms is certainly a pleasant surprise. The predominantly handheld camerawork keeps things intimate, while low-fi techniques such as sped up transitions, Dutch angles and impatient editing help to build tension. There are even one or two decent scares, each punctuated with panache and precision by Meredith Yayanos’ piercing score.
Billed as the first Chinese-funded feature to headline a major star from the west (in the form of a game, but misdirected Kevin Spacey), Inseparable is a disjoined affair, with an offbeat, Michel Gondry-lite premise which fails to really engage or intrigue.
Californian-born actor/filmmaker Daniel Wu plays Li, a young man suffering from a past tragedy who is in the grip of depression and severely suicidal. He is saved one day by a strange American named ‘Chuck’, who claims to be a new neighbour from the floor above. He takes Li under his wing, and together they embark on a series of adventures which sees them, amongst other things, adopt superhero guises and take on unethical big businesses and a case of corruption which may have implications into Li’s current mental state. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Li’s new fellow crusader may not be everything he appears to be.
Made back in 2011, Spacey and his Trigger Street Productions partner Dana Brunetti are billed as executive producers on the film. It may have been a shrewd move on Spacey’s behave to try and bring a Hollywood sensibility to the burgeoning Chinese film industry, but this isn’t the film which will provide that potentially lucrative crossover (hence it debuting on the small screen over here and the US). With a narrative which resembles little more than a series of quirky but directionless set pieces, the film struggles to hang together despite committed turns from both Wu and Spacey. The comic book escapades feel tired and overused, and in the end, Inseparable feels like a half-hearted curio and little else.
The only thing offered here is a trailer. A featurette explaining the origin and development of the film would have been welcome.