Written by J.Weagle
Sometimes taking a shot in the dark pays off, and boy that sure is the case with Berlin Syndrome. Having read no reviews and seeing nothing more than a one line synopsis I took a chance on this film on a rainy Saturday evening, not expecting this subtle little film to pack the punch it did. It tells the old story of girl meets boy, girl and boy have sex, boy locks girl in his apartment and holds her prisoner. A mix on paranoia and tension delivered in a way that feels uniquely fresh, like a sort of modern retelling of a lost Polanski film.
Right away we are introduced to Clare, and Australian tourist in Berlin, which we find out is because she is a photojournalist interested in making a book about architecture. She meets Andi, a charming local who quickly gains her affection. It doesn’t take long for the chemistry to heat up between the two and she goes back to his apartment. The next morning however things turn sinister when she attempts to leave only to find the door locked shut, and he has no intentions of ever letting her go. It’s a simple setup and one that reminds me of old Polanski, isolating characters and slowly building tension as the film creeps forward leaving us unsure of motives and just letting us soak in the dread a bit. The script is very well executed, and while it could of easily made Andi a two dimensional villain, they chose the more interesting and risky approach and humanized his evilness.
Without a doubt this is a breakout role for Teresa Palmer (Lights Out, Hacksaw Ridge), who is no stranger to the horror genre. Palmer’s performance as Clare is so damn excellent that her counterpart Max Riemelt can barely keep up, but keep up he does delivering one of the darkest most twisted characters to come along in quite some time while still feeling like a real person. Follow that up with some solid directing from Cate Shortland and you have a very well acted and constructed piece with barely any faults in its overall vision.
The way in which the story unfolds is also quite solid as for the most part it ditches the predictable route and goes down its own unique path. For example, we don’t just follow Clare, this simply isn’t just her story and we spend just as much time with Andi, seeing his relationships outside of the apartment. It does something strange and adds normalcy to the whole situation and allows us to see clearly see his feelings towards Clare through his eyes, rather than him always being a menacing force. We see hints of reasoning for his behavior with his relationship with his parents but nothing is ever straight up told to us and instead we are left guessing.
Overall it is a very well put together film that feels grounded in reality which only helps elevate everything. As the viewer we are aware that Clare’s every decision will have consequences and the true horror comes from never truly knowing what those consequences will be or even what Andi’s long term plan is for her. It’s flaws come mostly in its editing which can feel a bit disjointed and sloppy at times. It jumps around between characters when they are not together and I felt as though that could have been handled a bit more smoothly but that’s more of a nitpick. The ending payoff felt a bit rushed as well not giving the sense of satisfaction that it would have, had with a little more time. It’s not a film for everyone, and it is a bit of a slow burn that will most likely frustrate you at times, but in the best way possible.