Sunday night marked the end of what has been a nice month enjoying free Netflix DVD’s; we pay for streaming only since Redbox seems to fit our DVD needs better and saves us money, but weren’t about to pass up a deal for anything free. One of the films we watched last night was Compliance, a 2012 film inspired by true events, specifically one incident at a McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky where a prank phone caller convinces the restaurant manager that he is a police officer who requires assistance in investigating a theft. The film features Ann Dowd as Sandra, the manager at the ChickWich fast food chain and the person who receives the call from “Officer Daniels,” the man playing the prank. Daniels claims to have been in contact with the regional manager and informs Sandra that one of her employees had taken money out of a customer’s purse earlier in the day. After matching Daniels’ description of the thief to her employee Becky (Dreama Walker), Sandra springs into action and summons Becky to the back to confront her about the alleged theft.
The confrontation begins innocently enough. After Becky denies any knowledge of a theft and her involvement in one, she allows Sandra to escort her to the back office and storage room to have her pockets and purse searched per the “officer’s” instructions. I was asked to do this same thing when I was 16 after a friend stole a candy bar from the school store and the teacher assumed I and another student had part in it as well. I refused to empty my pockets or backpack without my parents notified and an officer present, even when she summoned the principal. I would expect anyone else to have the same reservations about being searched, but Becky went along with Sandra’s request and her belongings were searched. No money was found.
[SPOILERS BEGIN, BUT KNOWING WHAT TO EXPECT WILL NOT KILL THE MOVIE'S SHOCK VALUE AT ALL. PLEASE READ ON] At this point, Sandra seems satisfied that her employee is not a thief and does not have the stolen money in question. Officer Daniels is not quite as easy to please and immediately requests that Sandra conduct a strip search. His justification for the request is that it will be quicker and easier to resolve the situation in this manner, as the alternative is taking Becky to jail. His justification for not being present is that he is currently conducting an investigation at Becky’s home which also involves her older brother and drugs. When Becky is momentarily left alone with the phone, Daniels threatens to charge her brother with very serious crimes if she does not comply. Frightened and feeling helpless, she gives in to his demands and allows the strip search to take place.
Keep in mind that this film is based on true events; these strip searches did in fact happen in multiple locations because of a prank phone call. Numerous people were conned into removing their clothing and even performing sexual acts and cavity searches. The below image is a still from the actual security video footage of the event that the movie is based on:
Back in the office, Becky is stripped until completely unclothed and her clothes are put in a bag and taken out to Sandra’s car so the “police officer” can come collect them later and search for secret pockets where the stolen money would be concealed. He also throws in the “fact” that the clothing may contain trace amounts of marijuana and be of assistance in the larger case against Becky’s brother. Shockingly, Sandra complies and Becky barely protests as her clothing is placed in an unlocked car to be collected later. Covered in only an apron, Sandra tasks a young male employee to “keep an eye on” Becky while she tends to the busy restaurant. He is the first to exercise any common sense, stating that the caller’s requests are outlandish and refusing to participate. Feeling pressured, Sandra calls her fiance Van and asks him to watch Becky while she works.
At this point in the story, I’m past the point of disbelief. The caller has no proof that he is law enforcement of any kind, has only vague knowledge of the restaurant and the employees there, and trips up in his story enough times to make anyone with a functioning brain stop and think that something is very wrong here. Sandra is going solely off the words of an unseen and unknown person who claims to be a cop and just happens to know the name of the regional manager, something that is posted in full view in many fast food joints. Yet because of these claims, the already present job stress, and the fact that the called is heaping praise on Sandra, she does it. Because of fear and the idea that law enforcement is an unquestionable authority, Becky and the others go along with it. I’m gobsmacked that not one person stops this terrible strip search and demands that officers come to the scene to deal with this alleged theft.
Sandra sets up fiance Van to watch over her captive employee and returns to her managerial duties. In her absence, Van follows instructions given by “Officer Daniels” and instructs Becky to remove the apron covering her naked body and do jumping jacks. The reason given for this request is that Becky may have concealed the money in a body cavity; the jumping jacks will dislodge the money and put an end to this investigation. (NOTE: In the actual event at McDonald’s, the female was instructed to insert her fingers inside her vagina in order to prove that nothing was concealed within) After this humiliating event, Sandra returns and is greatly confused by the ashamed looks on the pair’s faces. During her brief return, Becky makes a plea to put an end to this and allow her to get dressed and leave. Unfortunately, Sandra rudely denies the request and the prank caller, having overheard the conversation, demands that Becky be punished.
Once Van and Becky are along again, Van is instructed to spank her hard while holding the phone close to her buttocks so the caller can hear the slaps. Becky is then instructed to do “something nice” for Van afterward as an apology, which translates into performing oral sex on him. (Yes, also actually happened) The guilt and shame immediately sets in, but only after Becky has performed the sex act. Van quickly leaves the restaurant, leaving Sandra confused and without a chaperone for her employee. In a bind, she calls on the restaurant’s custodian Harold to take over. Harold is thankfully a no-nonsense person, immediately refusing to comply with the prank caller’s instructions and telling Sandra exactly what this pervert is having the men do to poor Becky. Only at this point does Sandra think to begin verifying Officer Daniels’ story, which is immediately proven to be totally false.
The real police are called and a real investigation begins. Detectives soon discover that this is not an isolated incident and are able to find and arrest the man responsible for these calls and for instigating various crimes. The true events were orchestrated by a married father of five, David Stewart. He tried to cover his tracks by using calling cards to phone the various locations and by disguising himself during the purchases in a correctional officer’s uniform. Police later found a calling card in Stewart’s home that had been used to call nine restaurants in the past year, including one Burger King in Idaho Falls on the same day they received a call that tricked their manager. The investigation also uncovered dozens of job applications for jobs in law enforcement, hundreds of police magazines, and various police uniforms, holsters and guns.
Unfortunately, after extraditing Stewart to Kentucky to stand trial, he was determined to be not guilty of the crimes by a jury, possibly due to lack of evidence and the fact that the actual phone call was not recorded. The surveillance tapes, however, were rolling and resulted in the store manager being terminated, another employee who assisted being transferred, the fiance being sentenced to give years for the sex act and abuse, the victim to go to therapy and still be damaged, and for both the victim and the manager to sue McDonald’s and win. There are still ongoing cases in other restaurants where this took place, so the possibility still exists that Stewart will be found guilty for his crimes at a later date.
This film was shocking enough without the knowledge I have now about the true events. As the viewer, it’s impossible not to scream at the characters on your screen and try to drill some sense into their heads. You can’t help but be frustrated that no one is questioning the caller, choosing instead to follow along blindly and subject a young woman to horrifying situations. I had my suspicions that a lot of creativity had been put into this movie and that it wasn’t as extreme as it seemed, but the film nearly mirrors the actual incident at McDonald’s. The fact that it has happened so many times, and may still be happening, speaks volumes about human nature and our blind faith in authority.
The world needs more Harolds in it; people who call out BS as they see it and don’t allow themselves to be bullied into something, especially when they know it’s wrong. We need people to understand that they have rights even when dealing with an actual present officer of the law. We have to have some sense and realize that no law enforcement officer can order you into stripping, spanking, and oral sex. We cannot allow fear to overcome and overtake us. We can’t stand idly by while nonsense like this takes place. This situation and the others like it were all easily preventable, but sadly we did not have enough Harolds present for that to happen.
Overall, Compliance is an amazing film and even if you feel like I ruined it for you here, I suggest you watch it and experience it for yourself. Out of the three movies we packed into our Sunday, this was by far my favorite. Weigh in below with your thoughts and opinions on these prank calls, and on the film if you’ve seen it!
Posted on March 4, 2013, in Crazy People, Fear, Food, News, TV/Movies and tagged Ann Dowd, compliance, Craig Zobel, crime, Dreama Walker, fast food, mcdonalds, mount washington, netflix, Pat Healy, prank call, rape, redbox. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.