Compliance is one of the most bizarre films you’ll watch. The fact that it’s based on a true story adds to its odd nature.
In the film, a man posing as a police officer called a fast-food chain named ChickWich to report a theft. He provides the manager, Sandra, with a description of the suspect, who she immediately identifies as an employee of the establishment. On the officer’s instructions, Sandra calls the employee, Becky, into her office to conduct a search that culminates in sexual assault.
This piece explores the shocking true story that inspired Compliance.
Compliance tells the true story of an employee forced to give oral sex on suspicion of theft
In ten years from the mid-1990s, an unknown number of pranksters made 70 calls to fast-food restaurants tricking staff into performing humiliating acts. The call depicted in Compliance went a bit too far.
A man identifying himself as Officer Scott called McDonald’s and described the suspect to assistant manager Donna Summers. Donna identified the employee as Louise Ogborn, a shy 18-year-old about to clock out.
Four months into her employment, Louise had been the model employee, always on time and diligent in her service. However, Officer Scott convinced Donna that Louise was a thief. He instructed her to force Donna to strip naked to facilitate a search for a lost customer’s purse.
Donna instructed Ogborn to dance naked and do jumping jacks. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
The officer instructed Donna to switch places with her fiancé Walter Nix. On Officer Scott’s instructions, Nix forced Louise to sit on him, kiss him, allow him to slap her buttocks, and perform oral sex on him.
Other employees stood by and watched, believing everything to be legal since the man giving instructions was a police officer. Louise’s ordeal ended after a maintenance worker named Thomas Simms refused to take over the punishment.
“I did exactly what he said,” Summers said. “When I asked him why he always had an answer. I honestly thought he was a police officer.” Summers later said that she begged Louise for forgiveness. McDonalds sacked summers, and a court handed her a year’s probation for false imprisonment.
“I’ve done something terribly bad,” Nix told his best friend. He earned a five-year sentence for sexual abuse. More people faced jail time due to the prank calls, but police never captured the prank caller. They arrested and tried David Stewart, but he was acquitted.
Louise sued McDonald’s for £127 million but eventually settled for £700,000.
Creator Craig Zobel wanted the horror to come out in the film
Craig Zobel, creator and director of Compliance, wanted the true horror of the events at McDonald’s to come out in the film. Zobel told Entertainment Weekly:
“The film is certainly challenging to some people. I was incredibly conscious of trying not to be exploitative, but I felt it was a valuable thing to have [the nudity] so it’s in your head – people are getting naked because of a guy on the phone. That needed to feel uncomfortable.”
The lingering question is: Would you have done it? Would you have fallen victim to Officer Scott’s call and forced your coworker to strip on suspicion of theft? Would you have watched on as a coworker endured humiliation at the instruction of a voice on the phone?
You have convinced you wouldn’t do any of the above. However, Zobel opines that the answer is not that simple as we tend to obey authority. He talked to The Guardian about a human tendency to carry out the instructions of authority figures even when we don’t have to. He continued:
“We trust that they are there to protect us and that they won’t abuse that. It’s a social contract. I hesitate to say the film is about one thing, but to my mind it deals with how people use authority, how people respond to it, and how it’s baked into all these decisions we make.”