Movie Review – ‘Berlin Syndrome’
Earlier this year at Sundance, filmmaker Cate Shortland was set to debut her indie thriller Berlin Syndrome to a waiting audience. What should have been a career highlight turned into a nightmare as technical problems led to the film cutting out with about 20 minutes left to go. Fortunately unlike those at the Sundance premier I had the privilege of seeing this tense film in its entirety. Berlin Syndrome proves to be a great suspenseful movie with a healthy dose of giallo influence thrown in for good measure.
While backpacking through Germany, Australian photographer Clare crosses paths with the charming and handsome teacher Andi. Naturally the two of them embark on what seems to be a nice fling. After a night of fun, Clare finds that this seemingly charming innocent man has locked her in his Berlin apartment on the outskirts of the city. Andi has the only key, the glass on the windows has been reinforced and the building is completely vacant save for this apartment, so crying for help will do nothing. The film implies that she is far from the first woman he has done this to, so in order to avoid her fate Clare has to find new and clever ways to try to escape. But throughout the length of her captivity the young woman’s mind breaks down as Andi’s power and influence over her grows. But this is not the only narrative of the film, Shortland gives equal screentime to Andi during this harrowing ordeal. It is surreal that as his prisoner struggles we see the man responsible living an ordinary life. He goes to work; visits his aging father; spends time with his friends, nothing to show he was capable of anything so horrendous. In fact props to Sense8 actor Max Riemelt who portrays the character, in a role which many others would have played as unhinged or scary, he maintains a calm nonchalant demeanor which in of itself is quite unnerving. Shortland stated she cast him for the part because of his ability to show a lack of shame over what he had done just like a true sociopath.
From the beginning this film seeks to keep the audience on their toes and even disorient them a little. Cate Shortland keeps the camera moving not only does this throw off the viewer but shows just how small Clare is in the metropolitan city of Berlin. The city itself is kept largely obscured in the dark for much of the movie, not only at night but during the day the colors are muted as Clare explores this new world. Fittingly it is not until the end of the movie that we truly see the beauty of the city onscreen in the daylight. The bulk of this film takes place in Andi’s apartment situated in an old building, probably a relic of the Cold War surrounded by urban decay. Being confined to this space, mostly alone gave actress Teresa Palmer a chance to truly shine as her state of mind cracks over time yet she still maintains a certain resilience.
Throughout the film Cate Shortland uses a whole bag of tricks to create and keep tension, knowing just when to lay it on thick and also went to back off. This control is a necessity with these types of films as going too far or not far enough could ruin it. With the film mostly centered around two leads, the performers prove to be up to the task of carrying this movie along. Berlin Syndrome proves to be a incredibly well crafted thriller deserving of the attention of filmgoers.