It’s every single female traveler’s worst nightmare: you find yourself alone in a foreign city when a smooth talking, handsome man befriends you. You follow him home for a night of passion but wake up the next morning and find yourself kidnapped, locked inside his house as a prisoner. “Berlin Syndrome” spins the familiar tale of Prince Charming turned psychopath and this time the girl is Australian photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer) and the charismatic serial killer is a Berlin teacher named Andi (Max Riemelt). It’s a cautionary tale of a harmless fling turned deadly, and it’s sure to send a chill down the spine of world travelers who tend to let their guard down a bit more when they are away from home.
It’s a classic “what if?” scenario, and I found myself frantically searching every corner of the Andi’s apartment looking for ideas of how to escape. Clare tries many clever methods but fails repeatedly. Eventually she resigns herself to being held by a captor for life. This movie could be described as light horror, with plenty of tension-heavy scenes and just as many disturbing ones. The film, directed by Cate Shortland, takes its time with the surprise setup (by the end it’s a little too slow and could stand to lose a good half hour). Still, the film’s too-long runtime doesn’t diminish the intensity of its thriller aspects and the cat and mouse game of predator versus prey.
There’s a distracting use of slow motion photography bursts throughout, as well as rather pedestrian foreshadowing (when Clare first meets Andi, he takes her on a walk near empty houses where within minutes they encounter a ferocious barking dog, an abandoned wolf mask, and a police siren wailing in the background). Talk about obvious warnings. As she enters his home (which is in an abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere), you’d think the years-old peeling paint, sealed windows that won’t open, and Andi’s encouragement for her to make as many pleasurable sounds as she desires during sex because “no one will hear you” would at least set off some alarm bells!
Things start to pick up once Clare becomes Andi’s prisoner and property, and as she starts to uncover more horrific clues about what a real creep and danger this guy truly is. Then there’s that unsettling feeling that Clare is beginning to enjoy or at least become comfortable in her new hostage situation, which is more disturbing than any of the bloody violence that inevitably ensues (hence the play on the Stockholm syndrome theme and title). It may not be easy to watch this tale of sexual captivity, but “Berlin Syndrome” is an interesting and well-made psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the end.
This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.