Film review: BERLIN SYNDROME, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Cate Shortland’s latest film, Berlin Syndrome may have young travellers reconsidering that planned European backpacking holiday. Here, Teresa Palmer plays Clare, a troubled and reserved young Australian woman backpacking in Berlin. After spending a night with a seemingly nice young German teacher, Andi (Max Riemelt) at his isolated apartment, she awakes the next morning to find he has locked her in and she can’t escape. A strange cat and mouse game ensues as Clare begins to learn of Andi’s twisted intentions for her.

Director Shortland does a lot with a slender premise here. Apart from the imprisonment and the psychological games between Clare and Andi, there not a great deal to the story. Instead, Shortland expands the world of the film by adding intriguing layers to the characters, particularly Andi, who has an oddly normal life outside of his penchant for imprisoning young women.

Also, with atmospheric cinematography that encases Berlin in a grim and ominous pall, an intense musical score and fragmented editing, the film creates a sense of unease in both Clare’s captivity and the surrounding urban environment.

While always visually intoxicating, Shortland’s impressionistic style can get in the way of the characters and their story and here we occasionally feel detached from Clare which diminishes our concern for her. Teresa Palmer’s minimal dialogue doesn’t help either. On a physical level, though, Palmer convincingly portrays someone experiencing an appalling ordeal.

This film makes an interesting comparison with that other recent depiction of abduction and threatening captivity, 8 Cloverfield Lane. For all its impressive filmmaking style and strong performances, Berlin Syndrome isn’t quite as menacing as that creepy and unnerving drama.

Shortland and writer Shaun Grant touch on themes such as the legacy of Germany’s Cold War division, the twisted mentality of entitled males and the repressive nature of relationships but these aren’t explored as deeply as they might have been. Ultimately, Berlin Syndrome emphasises style over substance although that style is pretty remarkable.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Thriller.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Cate Shortland’s.

Release date: 20th April 2017.

Running time: 116 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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