For many of us the premise behind Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome would be our worst nightmare. Teresa Palmer of Hacksaw Ridge plays Clare, a tourist backpacking around Berlin. After a couple of encounters with charming teacher Andi (Max Riemelt) she ends up having a one night stand with him. Things take a dark turn the next morning however when Andi locks Clare in his flat and refuses to let her leave, making her a prisoner in his home.
This is a fairly familiar premise when it comes to horrors or psychological thrillers. Films like Misery and 10 Cloverfield Lane have both done similar things. Where Berlin Syndrome shines most however is in Shortland’s direction, particularly when it comes to its sense of atmosphere. The film has a consistent feel of claustrophobia and dread to it as Clare, bar some scenes, is confined solely to Andi’s flat. Once imprisoned, Clare’s constant fear of Andi’s unpredictable nature fuels the film’s intensity. The film grows somewhat repetitive after a good number of failed escape attempts, but the way Shortland effectively captures the gravity of Clare’s situation and details her ingenuity each time means there is still an air of trepidation throughout the picture. That, and a few bloody scenes, make the film a brutal and tough watch in places.
Assisting in the film’s successes is a strong performance from Teresa Palmer. The film makes the intelligent decision on never revealing how long Clare is spending in captivity, with Christmas and New Year scenes serving only as hints. It could be weeks or even months but Palmer embodies a sense of strength within the character’s vulnerability. Despite her captivity the perseverance she displays in her desire to escape is what is most apparent on screen. Paired with an eerie turn from Max Riemelt, who embraces his character’s sociopathic lack of shame, and we get a film that’s both suspenseful and brimming with unnerving themes.
The film is far from flawless: the title’s reference to Stockholm syndrome is a little misleading in terms of what to expect and some of the decisions characters make at crucial moments are arguably a bit moronic. Thankfully, with skilful craftsmanship, solid performances and a sturdy atmosphere of fear throughout, Berlin Syndrome proves to be a harrowing but undeniably engaging watch.
This film will be screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre from the 9th to the 22nd of June, tickets are available here: http://glasgowfilm.org/shows/berlin-syndrome-15
The GFT also offers a free 15-25 discount card for students, available here: http://glasgowfilm.org/plan-your-visit/memberships/15-25-card