complianceInspired By True Events is scrawled along the top of the poster, a sentiment echoed in the opening and closing frames of the movie. Someone is certainly going to every possible length to ensure that we get the idea … that this is, well, inspired by true events. Not Based on a True Story, mark you. No, this is altogether more vague. Because what, exactly, does Inspired By True Events actually mean these days? Did the story we’re about to watch actually happen? Or was it just inspired by something that happened? For example, during the opening credits, we learn that a fast food restaurant has run out of bacon. Is this the single true event that inspired the mountain of lies that followed?

Well, if you’re to believe the director, and Wikipedia, seemingly everything that happens in the movie actually happened. Although some of the things that happened may not have happened to the same people that other stuff happened for, but mostly it all happened to the same bunch of people. Got it? No, neither have I. Perhaps it’s better to not question and go along with the claims of it being a true(ish) story.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) is middle-aged and runs a fast food restaurant. Her day starts badly when she discovers that she’s out of bacon (see?). It gets worse when she finds herself short-staffed. And it gets even more worserer still when she gets a prank call from a guy claiming to be a police officer, telling her that one of her teenaged counter-servers, Becky (Dreama Walker) has been identified as stealing money from a customer’s purse. Because they’re busy investigating the crime and Becky’s possible involvement in a bigger, drug-related offense, the cop asks Sandra to hold Becky in the back and strip search her to find the money. Perhaps it’s because she’s having a stressful day anyway, but Sandra takes the guy for his word, doesn’t suspect the prank, and after this, Sandra’s — and especially Becky’s — day gets much, much worse.

For the remaining seventy of so minutes, the audience is asked to suspend their disbelief time and again, each request hoisting that disbelief to higher, starrier levels because some of the things Sandra and her staff are asked to do to Becky are exceptionally troubling at best and I’m left thinking, why does no one stop this? Why does no one ask for some proof of identity? And if this is supposed to be real … I mean … come on! Granted some characters are more dubious of all this than others but still, no one shows any sign of initiative. No one asks for any proof. And according to Wikipedia, that’s exactly what happened.

Director Craig Zobel does a decent enough job here and really gets some great performances from his mostly unknown cast, but it’s decent in the same way that Funny Games was decently directed by Michael Haneke. Both are voyeuristic experiences, intentionally so, to make the audience feel as complicit as the prank caller or the murderous kids, but either way it’s an uncomfortable way to spend an hour and a half.

You’re not likely to be whistling a merry tune when you depart the cinema after this one. You may very well be scratching a troublesome itch on your arm. You’re probably going to want a shower.