This review previously ran on January 22, 2017, during the Sundance Film Festival
The premiere of Cate Shortland’s new film, unfortunately, may have been overshadowed by two major faux pas and technical errors that occurred during the screening.
And while some who attended may choose to make those accidental errors the headline, this film is more than worthy of talking about beyond that unwanted attention.
“Berlin Syndrome” is the story of an Australian backpacker Clare (Teresa Palmer) who finds her way into a one night stand with a savvy local German named Andi (Max Riemelt) that ultimately turns into a possessive, dangerous relationship she isn’t able to walk away from. It’s a tense, painful journey as Clare becomes completely trapped in this dysfunctional relationship. For the majority of the duration, we watch as she grapples with attempts at escape and also an insidious acceptance of the grim, sickening fate that she may have found herself in.
The title, presumably, is a play on the colloquialism ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ in which we too find ourselves in Clare’s situation over the course of the film– equally unable to break out of her circumstances. The resulting story becomes a visceral and emotionally thought-provoking thrill ride from start to finish.
On top of being a thriller that’s impossible to not get engrossed in (and wishing for an escape the entire time), the story manages to work in some greater subtext…
On top of being a thriller that’s impossible to not get engrossed in (and wishing for an escape the entire time), the story manages to work in some greater subtext that I hope to explore further as the film finds release: the city of Berlin is a defining character here, representing a city with a totalitarian past. Another detail (thanks to the brief Q&A) is that Berlin is a city filled with young men who were abandoned by their mothers. These layers establish themselves as directly building on the movie’s setting. This ends up refining the film not only as a late-night thriller but also a nuanced, complex look at a tumultuous city in the wake of a divided past. Within this, Andi’s apartment, the pivotal location, also serves as a continual metaphor for both the city’s history and what the character goes through in this story. These elements make this a film immediately worthy of revisiting as it has time to reach the cultural zeitgeist.
For combining a white-knuckle mental thrill ride with more profound undertones, “Berlin Syndrome” stands out as an early film to watch from Sundance 2017. The film was pre-bought by Netflix, so anticipate this film as one to watch this coming year.
“Berlin Syndrome” is rated R for disturbing violent content, strong sexuality, nudity and some language. 116 minutes. Now playing at ArcLight Hollywood and on VOD.