Ever heard your travel pal’s obnoxious backpacking stories and wondered if the big, bad world really is that damn interesting? Spoiler alert, it’s not. It’s just different shaped buildings, fair-to-worse traffic and assorted smells of bad cheeses. Just kidding. How would I know? I never leave my comfy chair.
But if -for some reason- you’re still thinking of going on that backpacking trip you’ve always dreamed of regretting, Berlin Syndrome is here to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about it.
Just kidding! It’s actually here to remind you of every backpacking horror story you’ve ever heard.
Based on the book of the same name, Berlin Syndrome is directed by Cate Shortland (Lore) and stars homegrown talent Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge, Lights Out) as an Australian tourist (oh em gee guys, rep-re-sent!) who’s trippin’ about Berlin, soaking up the atmosphere…when all of a sudden she meets dashingly German German-man, Andi (Max Riemelt – Sense8). Sounds like a lovely European love story starring Julia Roberts, right? Well it would be if Andi wasn’t a complete and utter nutbag who likes locking his one night stands inside his fortified home. I mean, how else is a guy supposed to make a good girl stay? Needless to say, Clare (Palmer) wants out and it’s up to us to sit and watch with deep discomfort as she struggles for freedom. I bet Clare wishes she had some pocket sand right about now.
I’m a big fan of confined films; there’s real power in putting a story in a small space and turning the tension-o-meter up to 11. Berlin Syndrome gets the formula right with a tight, strangulating story that also gives you room to breathe. For the most part of Berlin Syndrome we’re stuck alongside Clare in Andi’s apartment; a shabby-chic place filled with Ikea furniture, reinforced windows and so many locks you’d think a creepy guy lives – oh. It’s satisfyingly awful to watch poor Clare struggle in isolation, left locked up like a pet while her captor goes to work/shops/party with friends. The time we don’t spend with Clare, we spend with Andi; watching his relationship with his father, his friends, and his students. Oh yeah, did I mention this guy is a HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER?!?! Chock this one up for cautionary tale on backpacking and creepy teachers. This ‘dual perspective’ works really well here, giving us two well fleshed out characters and a whole lot of tension.
Look! I’m blissfully unaware of the bitter irony in what I’m doing!
Now I won’t lie, I didn’t like Lights Out. I didn’t particularly like Teresa Palmer in Lights Out. I did, however, like her in basically everything else I’ve seen her in, particularly Hacksaw Ridge. Here she turns in a good, raw performance that is equal parts physical and emotional. I don’t think I’ve been so uncomfortable with how gaunt and ill-looking a girl has been in a film since Starry Eyes, and that’s saying something. Teresa Palmer and the makeup department should be commended here, because I was frequently cringing at the sight of poor Clare and how disheveled and mistreated she was. Teresa Palmer does an excellent job of emoting with her eyes here, and also throws herself *completely* into the role, which results in some moments so ‘real’ it’s unsettling. If discomfort was a person, this would be its favourite movie. Max Riemelt is every bit Palmer’s equal here; playing at being both cerebral and just being such a primo creep. Andi is like the ultimate ‘horror story ex’. You know, that guy Sherryl told you about who looked really sweet and everyone loved him, but he was kind of a dick. Well throw in a dash of control freak and a side of sociopath…and that’s Andi. The ultimate ‘nice guy’.
Do I look like a guy who would hurt/kill/lock you in my apartment dungeon?
So what good would a charming sociopath and a mistreated tourist be if the movie was just all kinds of awful? Luckily here we get a solid movie that does everything well, but not exceptionally. Colours are muted in an ‘SBS documentary’ kind of way which works well for the vibe this film is going for, and in the moments that vibrant colours pop out at you they’re really given a reason to be there. Apart from this, Berlin Syndrome is a perfectly good looking film, but doesn’t have any real standout qualities. There’s no artsy-fartsy nonsense here, but there’s no dull, student film level blandness either. It’s just…fine. What stands out most about Berlin Syndrome is actually its building of tension with each shot. Nothing is a throwaway moment and everything serves to only drive the story forward. So no, this isn’t a David Fincher style thriller, but it’s certainly a solid thriller all the same.
No I didn’t bring you to these secluded woods to kill you. Gosh, you’re such a drama queen, Clare.
All things considered, I quite liked Berlin Syndrome and can definitely see this becoming one of those cult thrillers that’s recommended through the grapevine. While not something like a Hollywood churn-out thriller (cough – The Collector – cough), Berlin Syndrome aims for a more raw, muted, almost British Style. You know how everything British always looks kinda washed out and dour…don’t say you don’t notice it. The tension is gripping, the characters are interesting and best of all…it will have you uncomfortable like any good kidnapping should. Wait, that came out wrong.
Wicked Cool Rating: 71%
Berlin Syndrome ties down a solid B…like a kidnapper ties down his victims.
Berlin Syndrome is available now on digital and home video (I mean dvd…)
Check out Entertainment One for more information and you too could catch the Berlin Syndrome!