Review: Berlin Syndrome

What would you do if you were a woman, backpacking on your own in a faraway continent, and ‘accidentally’ bump into a stranger who delivers a worn-out, clichéd pickup line? Laugh it off and walk away, or fall an unsuspecting prey to his wiles? Scripted by Shaun Grant and based on the 2011 novel by Melanie Joosten, ‘Berlin Syndrome’ is a gripping and moderately chilling film which explores the dreaded Stockholm syndrome.

13Amateur photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer), a Brisbanian on holiday-cum-work in Berlin, casually comes across Andi (Max Riemelt), a German English-teacher and basketball coach at a traffic signal. After an innocuous conversation – during which he ‘twists’ the English language – and a couple of relaxed trysts, she accompanies Andi to his dilapidated apartment block in a secluded neighborhood. What follows is expected but the next morning when he leaves for work and finds herself locked in, she doesn’t think much of it. But the following day when she finds that the key he’s given her doesn’t fit the latch and the sim card in her phone is missing, she realizes what she’s up against.

The characters are well established – for instance, Andi doesn’t exhibit the usual maniacal tendencies generally associated with a film of this genre. Also, even as the film progresses and he keeps her imprisoned at his home – which has soundproof and unbreakable windows, and unpickable locks – he continues to display the charm which had first lured Clare – cooking for her, trimming her nails and cutting her hair. Director Shortland builds up the tempo well – the protagonist aimlessly wandering around Berlin, a casual rendezvous, a none-too-serious fling leading to her confinement, discovering through more than one piece of evidence that she wasn’t the first, and then the finale – which, perhaps, was a bit trite.

The first half hour gives one the suggestion of a titillating romance, which quickly transforms into a thriller, leaving the viewer wondering whether the victim’s actions are the result of the syndrome, or a ruse to win over her abductor. Australian beauty Teresa Palmer and German actor Max Riemelt do a fantastic job of displaying contrasting emotions. Supporting actors Matthias Habich as Andi’s father and Emma Bading as Andi’s student Franka, lend good support.

Leave a Reply