By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Jennifer McKeough thought that "Compliance" was a horror movie. Browsing through movie posters in a catalog, she saw the movie's picture and, assuming it involved blood and guts, passed over it.
"I know that sounds silly," McKeough said. "But I wasn't in the mood for a horror movie. When I saw the lady with red eyes looking backwards, I skipped over it."
McKeough, owner of Joplin Electric Theater, eventually learned what it was about. It will be shown Saturday at the Hive.
While "Compliance" isn't a horror movie, it is horrifying and hard to watch, McKeough said. Based on a real situation that happened in many places across the U.S., it is uncomfortable and provocative.
"It's hard to watch," she said. "It's not real graphic, but the ignorance is ridiculous."
The movie is based on an instance of the strip-search hoax that happened at a Bullit County, Ky., McDonalds, according to Globe reports. A Florida man was charged with sexual abuse of a teenager when he allegedly called the restaurant in 2004 impersonating a police officer and forced a manager to strip search an 18-year-old employee.
David Stewart was acquitted by a jury of those charges in 2006.
The hoaxes were reported across the country, including in Joplin. In 2004, a man called a Joplin Sonic restaurant posing as a Joplin police officer and persuaded a 16-year-old manager to strip search a 21-year-old male cook in a women's restroom. The premise was that the cook had stolen a woman's purse.
In the Joplin case, the caller managed to get the manager to search the cook, then asked the manager to hand the phone to the cook. The caller then told the cook that the manager was the real suspect, and that everything that the caller had the manager do to the cook was a test of innocence.
Another manager interrupted the situation and put an end to the hoax. In the investigation, Joplin police traced the call to Florida, but could not connect it to Stewart.
The movie, directed by Craig Zobel, portrays that hoax happening in real time at a fictional restaurant. Actress Ann Dowd, who plays an employee subjected to one of the searches, has earned glowing reviews for her work, and won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The premiere at the Sundance 2012 generated a passionate, emotional reaction, from nervous laughter and groans to outrage over depicting such a degree of violence against women, according to a report in Hollywood Reporter. A Q&A after the showing got even more emotional, with members of the crowd arguing with each other about the content of the movie.
Despite the argument, the movie has received many positive reviews, McKeough said. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Zobel said he made the movie not to show how stupid people can be, but to investigate how people respond to authority figures.
"We've shown nicer and darker movies, and this is part of the mix," McKeough said.