“Berlin Syndrome” represents exactly what mother used to warn us about: “Don’t go home with strangers.” It’s an exhilarating piece of art, directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault) and written by Shaun Grant (The Snowtown Murders). It’s a brilliant countdown of trust, fear and lust in combination with thrilling, unpredictable moments that keep the viewer reeling with anticipation.
Shortland (Somersault) tries to show the viewer the innocence of a child with the naive and careless act of an adult, which captures the essence of pure terror and trust in the film adaption of the novel “Berlin Syndrome,” by Melanie Joosten (Gravity Well). It’s mesmerizing and breathtaking and doesn’t need much to create a goose bump effect that leaves the viewer with a different world-view when it comes to foreign cities and strangers.
Photojournalist “Clare,” portrayed by Australian actress Teresa Palmer (Lights Out) escapes her native land to gain “those life experiences, that people talk about all the time” and takes the next available flight to the former GDR to take photographs for her book. As life happens, Clare randomly runs into a handsome, tall and typical German-native that she briefly saw in the bookstore before.
“Help yourself. Do you like strawberries? They make you forget your problems,” says the charming “Andi,” played by Max Riemelt (The Wave). Andi’s charismatic blue eyes and heavy German accent pierces right into Clare’s clueless heart, that soon her idea of a one-night-stand with a stranger turns into a regrettable thought as it unravels later.
Unaware of the fact that all along warning signs appear right in front of her, as if it was taken from a Brothers Grimm novel.
Up to this point, some sweat will begin to seep from the viewer’s palm, but the heavy breathing and cold, dripping starts more and more when Andi parks his car in his quiet neighborhood and leads Clare to an abandoned backyard building- with Andi as the only tenant.
It’s not that Andi reveals his true self then and there and it’s not that “Berlin Syndrome” shows its true form either. It’s German cinema-drama, which usually contains psychotic-thrilling mechanisms to pump up the blood in the viewer’s veins. And it’s not yet sinister when the door is locked from the outside, or when Clare notices the word “mine” written on her shoulder, but it does slowly creep up, the thought to be a forced girlfriend to a disturbed English teacher who has problems remembering the word “contemplating.”
The excitement builds up like strong tension and gets released for a brief moment in hope Clare’s trick gets her help to escape.
Although the movie doesn’t disclose much of Clare’s life, the viewer is able to get to know more about Andi and somehow feels for him, even understands his pathetic, obsessive-compulsive character. And though the short-lived romance is long gone, the sexual tension is still lingering in the air. For Andi it’s control and fear, for Clare it’s the only way out if she just plays along, or so she thinks.
The one hour and 55-minute film make you feel as if you are trapped with Clare, every motion, any moment now it seem that Clare could figure a way out, but even when she is in the free with Andi she is paralyzed to escape his power over her. There’s a slight moment in the beginning when Clare noticed something is clearly wrong but is either in denial or too afraid to leave Andi. The chemistry of both actors is natural and the performance of the disturbed lonely-boy and the lost tourist are remarkably authentic. Two cultures connect, yet clash but still find a way to make it work, like in every relationship, which seems normal on the surface, oftentimes can be the exact opposite. Simply put, “Berlin Syndrome” is Stephen King’s “Misery” of 2017. It’s a rollercoaster of angst and sweaty palms.