Teresa Palmer delivers a powerful lead performance in director Cate Shortland’s creepy and unsettling thriller, based on Melanie Joosten’s novel. Australian Clare (Palmer) has left her troubles behind to seek clarity and take stock of her life by travelling to Berlin alone. She takes in the sights until she falls for local teacher Andi (Max Riemelt) after a chance encounter. A passionate night follows, and Clare wakes up the next morning to find that she’s locked in Andi’s apartment. Has he just forgotten to leave her the key before he left for work or is something more sinister happening?
Shot exceptionally well and gorgeous to look at, the drama builds up an incredible amount of tension, even if the finale loses momentum. Director Cate Shortland frames the film exceptionally well. The start really captures the sights of Berlin from the wanderlust perspective of Clare. It’s a place offering new beginnings to a woman who is looking for answers. Once she meets Andi, the film takes on a hazy and almost romantic feel, as their burgeoning passion spills over into a tryst. Then Shortland changes the visual tone into an erotically-charged and intimate character study of two people clearly infatuated with one another.
As the story progresses, Shortland conjures up claustrophobia and panic at every given opportunity, lacing it with plenty of erotica, tension and peril. It never fails to place Clare and Andi at the centre of everything though, and when things get decidedly winch-worthy, the earlier groundwork in characterisation always keeps you invested in their story rather than getting lost in the spectacle of impending horror.
Teresa Palmer is a revelation here, handing in her best work for ages. It’s nice to see her tackle something substantial and she delivers a sobering and fascinating leading turn that really showcases her talent. Max Riemelt’s performance is pitch-perfect in its duality and he easily convinces as a potential love interest and something altogether more sinister. It’s a testament to his performance that you never really know how Andi will react to a situation, which fuels the film with palpable tension at every opportunity. Palmer and Riemelt’s chemistry is effortless and is the main reason the film works so well.
Being a horror-infused thriller means that there are a lot of situations that place you squarely in the tension and makes you question what you would do in a similar situation. This naturally creates situations onscreen that sometimes frustrate the viewer, but given its premise Berlin Syndrome still manages to balance the realism of the situation very well, despite a few gratuitous moments that feel shoehorned in. But despite this, Berlin Syndrome is a powerful thriller that really hits a nerve. Coupled with a great central performance by Palmer and Riemelt, Berlin Syndrome is easily one of the finest thrillers of the year thus far.
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron, Matthias Habich, Cem Tuncay, Maia Absberg, Emma Bading, Kristina Kostiv, Thuso Lekwape, Charly Thorn, Vitus Wieser, Nassim Avat, Lara Marie Müller, Mascha Wolf, Morgane Ferru, Malin Steffen Director: Cate Shortland Writer: Cate Shortland, Shaun Grant, Melanie Joosten Released By: Curzon Artificial Eye Certificate: 15 Duration: 116 mins Release Date: 2nd October 2017