Berlin Syndrome Review
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Charly Thorn, Kristina Kostiv, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading, Lucie Aron, Vitus Wieser, Elmira Bahrami, Cem Tuncay, Maia Absberg and Thuso Lekwape
Director: Cate Shortland
Quick take: Sex charged and scary
Rating: 3 stars
Not every pleasure trip is a happy one. Berlin Syndrome is a thriller based in the German capital. Its name making an allusion to the Stockholm Syndrome, plays out a story where a girl being held captive keeps reacting to her kidnapper’s sexual stimuli. The thrills work out well for most part of this film. But the narrative’s predictable design and the treatment of the film could have been better. Even so, the general sense of dread and nervous tension keeps this sexually charged film alive.
An Australian photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer) decides to backpack in Berlin. Following her artistic instincts she nervously struts about in the bylanes of an alien city. By chance she stumbles upon the charming and perfectly average Andi (Max Riemelt). They bond over strawberries and raging pheromones. After his initial hesitations, Clare takes the brave step of going over to his place. Their initial sexual chemistry quickly gives way to terror as Clare realises Andi is locking her up in his apartment as he goes out for his job as a school teacher. Andi’s odd and obsessive behaviour makes Clare a nervous wreck. She tries to escape but his meticulous planning is too detailed to be broken. The slow setup and the paced thrills of Berlin Syndrome work out well. The film has an eerie atmosphere. Andi’s odd behaviour and his sociopathic tendencies make the movie genuinely creepy. Watching him go from perfectly normal to absurdly bizarre and still maintain an innocent personality is disturbing. Then there’s the angle of Stockholm Syndrome where the victim starts falling for the abductor. But here the line between attraction and pretence is pretty blur. You can never tell whether Clare is actually responding to Andi’s sexual cues or just biding her time for an eventual escape. That the film is able to establish this conflict is its biggest strength.
Sadly though, by the end, the screenplay does ditch slow tension for the usual slasher / horror film thrills of running around, falling, blood spurting etc. The experience changes from claustrophobia and fear to anxiety and thrills and sadly that’s a downgrade. There’s also a touristy feel to the film that doesn’t always assist its ambitions to choke the viewer with tension. But even when the film caters to more mainstream choices, it maintains an air of authenticity that is commendable.
Teresa Palmer’s performance as a hippie sort of girl looking for meaning and inspiration but turning into a desperate survivor is the one reason why this thriller works. You never quite get a handle on her character and that keeps the thrill of the story alive. Max Riemelt as the edgy Andi is good with the poker face and the long silences. Both actors keep the movie alive with their efforts.
Had the screenplay of Berlin Syndrome not taken so many liberties, it could’ve been a modern classic. Even though it falls short of greatness, it still is head and shoulders above the average thriller. The inspired moment in the film comes early when Andi whispers to Clare during oral sex. She’s trying to muffle her excitement when he says, ‘No one will hear you’. Once you’ve watched the film you can truly appreciate the detail of its design. Its definitely worth a watch.