In the #MeToo age, Compulsus has a story worth telling. A home-grown Canadian project, it’s message so often transcends the sum of its parts. There was a lot of potential here, from the story structure to the characters. Even if that potential wasn’t always fully realized, the commentary Compulsus makes is compelling enough to make it worthwhile.
The 2022 Inside Out Festival was the perfect venue to highlight this project. Compulsus tells the story of Wally (Lesley Smith), a Canadian vigilante who decides to take matters into her own hands when confronted with the staggering statistics regarding women who know other women who have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Her quest for vengeance is complicated by her relationship to Lou (Kathleen Dorian), who values the concept of upholding the law.
From the beginning, the movie’s budget feels itself. From the script to the cinematography, Compulsus didn’t have access to the resources that could have made it truly great. It’s not for lack of effort on the part of everyone involved. This is just how smaller-budget projects like this are. It was honestly impressive that the performances especially managed to be what they were, when everyone involved was faced with their lack of resources.
The ideas that Compulsus presents are what elevates it beyond its insufficient budget. This movie was what Promising Young Woman was supposed to be. From beginning to end, Compulsus is focused exclusively on the female gaze. The movie is structured in such a way to focus on the direct action taken in response to sexual assault, and ensuing discussion about the related ethics.
The choice not to show assaults was a brilliant one. Further, the continued showcase of consent was trauma-informed that too many movies like this lack. The violence itself is incredibly cathartic. While the movie doesn’t necessarily present viewers with a solution, it shows a different one. The more discussions that the characters have about the law and ‘due process’, the clearer it becomes that we still live in a society woefully ill-equipped to confront gender-based violence.
Compulsus also makes a point to highlight the LGBTQ+ experience as it relates to sexual assault. There’s a unique insidiousness that’s embedded in patriarchal society, where men feel entitled to the bodies of women in lesbian, bisexual, and other non-heterosexual relationships. It’s disgusting, and it needs to be addressed. Compulsus deserves credit for spotlighting this dynamic in a realistic way.
Even when it doesn’t live up to it’s full potential, Compulsus asks very big questions. With a larger budget, and more resources, this movie could have been an international hit with a massive reach. As it is, the entire movie tries its best to rise above what it was given. This is the kind of commentary we need in an era where sexual abuse and violence is becoming more and more spoken about, and rightly so. Hopefully, we will get more projects like Compulsus in the future.
Compulsus premiered at the 2022 Inside Out Film Festival.