For those who need a summary, the film depicts an barely fictionalized actual crime when a fast food restaurant manager got a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer who has a complaint that a young female employee has stolen something. Without asking one meaningful question about the caller's credentials or the evidence against the girl, the manager unthinkingly follows his instructions to detain and then strip search her. This leads to her being sexual humiliated by the staff and the manager's fiance who unquestioningly follow the instructions of this voice on the phone. Only after the janitor walks in on this does anyone realize that this is a sick hoax and the police are left to investigate this disgusting crime that has happened more than 70 times in real life.
From what I heard, this film has sparked vociferous complaints at film festivals and the Hyland staff has had complaints and demands for refunds for a film that dramatizes a true event. From what I gather, it was the film's disturbing sexual nature which too many are apparently making them write off the film as a kind of badly written pornography, as if the film ratings signs on the poster and at the ticket counter was not warning enough.
As you can see, Compliance is hardly making up any of the core details such as the perversity of this crime that actually happened, including the follow-up interview by the former manage who is caught in a open face lie about her complicity.
So why are people complaining? This film is the definition of a challenging work of art where your assumptions about human nature of purposefully questions. It has been said that art should be asking questions, not bellowing answers and there is a need to depict this crime in drama that simply seeing the security camera footage cannot show.
For instance, drama is needed to show the full perspective of the people involved, including their emotional responses and perspectives. Like the famous Milgram experiment that showed what too many people are capable of when faced with authority, we need artist creations like this to ask where fully grown people doing all this abuse at the orders of a unknown stranger of the phone. With drama, we get to see a greater element of the setting of the crime and the mentality of people in such a environment that could have encourage people to act like this.
As Roger Ebert has noted in his review, "The walk-outs aren't because it's a bad movie, but because it's all too effective at exposing the human tendency to cave in to authority." In other words, this film is rubbing people the wrong way because it is touching on an inconvenient truth that they don't want to face.
I myself found the film rough going, but a worthwhile experience to learn about human gullibility and the fallout of it and I hope that I could react better in that situation. I would have hoped all the patrons of the Hyland Cinema in my city could appreciate a film brave enough to do that.