Director: Cate Shortland
Script: Shaun Grant
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Mathias Habich, Emma Bading, Elmira Bahrami
Running time: 116 minutes
Based on a novel of the same name by Melanie Joosten, Berlin Syndrome is a slow-burn thriller with some horror elements. I was keen to see it after kind of ‘enjoying’ writer Shaun Grant’s earlier outing, Snowtown (2011).
Berlin Syndrome tells the story of a young woman, Clare Havel (Teresa Palmer), who takes a break from her job in Australia to go travelling and ends up in Berlin because she’s interested in its cold war architecture. After she finds herself a bed in a hostel she wanders around the city taking photos and has a chance encounter with a handsome English teacher, Andi Werner (Max Riemelt), who tentatively seduces her, after she drops her guard.
After a brief period of flirtation and dancing they end up back at his place, an apartment in a strangely abandoned tenement block, located in a dodgy area of the city. They have sex and enjoy basking in each other’s afterglow. The next morning Clare finds herself locked in his apartment, but, believing it to be an accident, she isn’t too worried. When the key he leaves her on the second day doesn’t open the security-bolted front door she becomes more anxious and confronts him on his return from work. When he confesses to basically holding her captive because he wants to possess her, things rapidly get out of hand and become increasingly disturbing.
I don’t really want to say any more about how the story unfolds as I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t yet seen it, but I will say that Berlin Syndrome does move in some unexpected directions and makes for an interesting stab at arthouse horror. Beginning with plenty of hand-held shots, with a lighter feel to the camerawork, the filming progressively mirrors the heroine’s sense of being trapped, by slowing down to a more static style of cinematography. The colours also drain away as the story unfolds, reflecting her youthful exuberance being stripped from her during the course of the film.
The visuals are nicely counter-balanced by a very subtle musical score by Bryony Marks, which adds a real sense of menace and tension to certain scenes, without being over-the-top in any way.
The film is quite sedately-paced, but grips the viewer’s attention, mainly through its two central performances by Riemelt and Palmer, who are both excellent. On a separate, and very shallow note, it must be said that actress Teresa Palmer must have one of the nicest bottoms to grace the silver screen in many a year! A fact helped by some excellent photography throughout, including lots of interesting camera angles.
There were a few minor plot contrivances I thought, which did a disservice to an otherwise sound story structure, but maybe that’s me being extremely picky! I would definitely recommend that fans of more arty thrillers and horror films check Berlin Syndrome out, but fans of films like Captive and Hostel should probably stay away…
Artificial Eye are distributing Berlin Syndrome on DVD and Blu-ray. There are some extras on the disc including:
A trailer (2.14 mins) – a decent trailer which nicely mimics the vibe of the movie;
Behind the scenes (15 mins) – a talking heads kind of featurette that ducks behind the scenes of the film and interviews all the salient people involved with the project. There’s also plenty of behind the scenes footage to please those who like that sort of thing. For me, it was interesting to learn about the continuity problems they had due to filming in both Berlin, Germany and in Melbourne, Australia.