DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
WRITER: Shaun Grant
Clare is an Australian photojournalist who is holidaying in Berlin, Germany. One day while out exploring the city, Clare meets Andi. He's a good-looking guy and quite a charismatic local. After a night of partying, they end up going back to his place and sleeping together. When Andi goes to work in the morning, Clare tries to leave his apartment and realises he may have accidentally dead-locked her in. She will soon discover that she was locked in the apartment on purpose and has no intention of letting her leave ever again.
As someone who has an insatiable appetite for travelling the world. The plot for Berlin Syndrome is a scary one for me. It hits me on an emotional and personal level. While I never went through what Clare does in the film. I've felt the isolation and fear. While travelling through Greece. I was drugged while out on a night of clubbing, then driven to a deserted location, attacked and left with nothing but my shirt, undies, and high-tops. My passport with my new UK Visa in it, mobile phone and wallet were stolen. To come to it in the dark, while in a foreign country. It was terrifying.
I went into Berlin Syndrome completely blind. I hadn't seen any promotional material for this one at all before going into it. But just going off the title alone. I had gathered that this movie would be about someone who falls in love with their kidnapper. Berlin was going to be the location, and this title was clearly a play on the whole Stockholm Syndrome condition. I wasn't sure what route this movie would take, but I had a good idea of what this would be like on a tonal level. But boy was I very wrong.
I'm a fan of the film's director, Cate Shortland. I'm pretty familiar with her work being that she's an Australian filmmaker. I was a massive fan of her first movie Somersault. It was a very dark drama that showed a sixteen-year-old girl who runs away from her home and starts up a relationship with an older guy. It dealt heavily with themes such as her sexual awakening. It was also the first time I had witnessed the brilliant Abbie Cornish outside of a comedic role and where I first took notice of Sam Worthington. So I had faith Cate Shortland could give us something special again.
Berlin Syndrome is a movie that was a bit of a mixed bag for me. While I quite liked this movie, it's hard to say that this is a story that a lot of people will walk out of and love or even enjoy. Berlin Syndrome is one dark and unpleasant little movie. This is not a very lovely experience. While the first fifteen minutes of the film provides the audience with a sense of wanderlust and hope. That is quickly dashed when we start to get a sense that our lead character may have gotten herself into something that she can't get out of. The next hour and a half, while not exactly a harrowing film, it's still uncomfortable to watch.
For most of this movie. We witness a woman who is confined to an apartment, which appears to be in an abandoned building and she is emotionally and physically abused. Her identification and her passport are taken off of her, and she is simply left to fend for herself and suffer with a man she trusted. What I think the film gets right are the tone and atmosphere. Being that we are stuck with her as the outside world happily moves on, I felt that they captured this isolation well. I sat there wondering will her parents back in Australia ever try and find her? Will they call the authorities? But we never see that happen.
Another element of the film that I really enjoyed was the cinematography and visual aesthetic. For a movie that is so dark in tone and with its themes. I thought that Cate Shortland and her crew brought a very dream-like quality to it. Just like Somersault, there was still beauty to be found in such darkness and brutality. There is a moment towards the end of the film where Andi and Clare are in walking in the forest, and it was gorgeous. The seasons of Berlin are captured so beautifully. The visual works as a way to tell how long she has been left in this apartment.
The acting is also top-notch in Berlin Syndrome. Teresa Palmer is an actress that I've been watching for years. I think this may be her most daring role yet. Not only is she completely open when it comes to the sexuality side of the film, but she is also brave as some of the things she goes through are pretty horrific. Max Riemelt is also great in the movie. Probably the darkest character that I've seen him tackle. I really grew to hate his character. They both do their respected roles justice. It was great to see both delve into such dark characters.
Where I think Berlin Syndrome goes wrong for me is that the movie suffers from so many stupid character decisions. I can totally believe that after spending a night with a guy, he locks you in his apartment and you think nothing of it. There's this sense of trust there. Even on the second day, I would start to panic and realise something isn't right. After that, I'd spend the entire day trying to escape while he's at work teaching. She had and wasted so many opportunities to flee while he was gone for days on end and she just didn't try hard enough. This becomes seriously frustrating to watch as an audience member. It happens over and over again.
The movie also has a ton of things that made me really annoyed. There is one scene where she has her mobile early on, and there is no SIM. I'm under the understanding that most if not all mobile phones now have the ability to call all emergency numbers even without a SIM or no signal. The entire apartment looks made up to not allow a woman to escape like bulletproof glass or doors that are locked and reinforced. With eight hours to spare, she could have escaped over and over. I keep coming back to the point because I really felt they didn't show her trying enough. After three days she just gave up and subjected herself to his abuse.
Lastly, we have several subplots that end up going nowhere like one that involves a previous victim that doesn't get resolved or have much light shed on it. I thought the ending of the film while a happy one, felt like it just ended. After sitting through close to two hours of such darkness, I'd have liked a more well-written ending and another one involving Andi and his father. I know it's meant to lead Andi and tip him over the edge on making a decision that he was not sure about but it felt like a lot of that stuff could've been left out, and it wouldn't have hurt the film.
DEATH TOLL: 2
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A woman is held captive.
- A woman is dragged along the floor by her hair.
- A man's head is bashed in with a crowbar.
- A little boy is shown with a bloody leg.
- An old man dies of natural causes.
- A woman is hit in the face.
- A woman's fingers are broken when slammed in a door.
- A woman stabs a man in the hand with a screwdriver.
- A woman is seen covered in bruises.
Berlin Syndrome started out giving me this sense of wanderlust. It actually made me miss travelling. This film quickly becomes a dark and at times unpleasant experience. It's not an easy movie to watch, but I think it has enough positive elements to get it over the line. Excellent performances, some beautiful cinematography and a couple of really nasty moments should keep genre fans happy. Where the movie loses points is unresolved subplots, silly character decisions, and an unsatisfying ending which loses the film points. I think this movie will alienate and leave a lot of viewers feeling cold, but I think it's still worth a watch.