Berlin Syndrome review: Cate Shortland directs this adaptation of Melanie Joosten’s best-selling 2011 novel of the same name, a film which has already caused a stir at Sundance.

Berlin Syndrome review by Paul Heath at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.

Berlin Syndrome review
Berlin Syndrome review

Hot from an impressive debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and then a hot pursuit for distribution rights, Berlin Syndrome arrives in the city in which it is set.

Teresa Palmer plays Clare, an Australian twenty-something travelling through the German capital backpacking. On a day wandering around the Kreuzberg district of the city, she happily snaps images of the GDR structures and pick up second hand clothes in trendy street-side market stalls where she meets a charming local man named Andy (Max Riemelt, Sense8) who offers to show her around. Naturally one thing leads to another and the couple end up sleeping together, but when Andy leaves for work the following day, Clare finds herself locked inside his upper-floor apartment with no way of getting out. Assuming that this is just a mistake on his part, Clare makes herself comfortable until the high school teacher returns home from work. When the same thing happens the following day, Clare realises that things have taken a darker turn, especially when she notices the word ‘Meine’ tattooed on her back. What follows is an unrelenting, enormously tense two-hour thriller which will keep you questioning everything until the very end.

Berlin Syndrome review
Berlin Syndrome review

Berlin Syndrome is vastly intense from the very beginning. First off, the intensity comes from the instant sexual tension between the film’s two central characters who seemingly lust after one another from their first chance meeting. This sexual energy climaxes early on, the film seemingly being placed into the erotica category with its intense sex scenes featured within the first fifteen minutes. That then all changes with the narrative, director Cate Shortland developing the film into more of a confined thriller with no holds barred from then on it.

This is not your generic off-the-shelf number, as Berlin Syndrome really does make you think. Whether that be during the first two thirds of the film where you’re questioning what you would do in Clare’s situation, or what you would do to get out of it, or even during the climactic scenes where Shaun Grant’s twisting screenplay (based on Melanie Joosten’s book) and Shortland’s suspenseful direction allows the viewer to put the piece together.

Berlin Syndrome review
Berlin Syndrome review

Teresa Palmer makes a career-making charge at the screen in a fearless role, one in which she puts her full trust in her director. The film borders on pure female exploitation in some scenes, but the fact that Berlin Syndrome has been crafted by a female director with due care and attention, keeps it just on the right side of the line throughout the picture. Riemelt is equally as good as Palmer as the sinister bad-guy, and manages to convey a character that you can instantly be attracted to and then absolutely despise with the turn of a metaphorical, and in this case, physical key.

It must be said that Berlin Syndrome won’t be for all – in fact, in the screening where we caught the film, there were several walk-outs during a very particular sequence about a halfway in which gives the implication that the film is only headed for one very obvious direction. Thankfully it doesn’t completely go there at all, but instead delivers one of the darkest, most original nail-biting genre films for quite some time.

Berlin Syndrome review by Paul Heath, February 2017.

Berlin Syndrome plays as a special Panarama presenttion at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.

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Berlin Syndrome review