This review was written by Anthony J Digioia. Follow him and his website here for more awesome reviews: SilverScreen Analysis
“BERLIN SYNDROME” is a thriller directed by Cate Shortland and stars; Theresa Palmer as well as Max Riemelt. This story follows a photojournalist from Australia who while on vacation in Berlin meets a charming teacher. Their romance sparks almost immediately, and this woman thinks she has met an incredible man. Until she wakes up in his apartment one morning, locked in, and unable to leave.
On the outside, this script gives the impression of being a typical ‘person held captive’ story, and it was. But there were different approaches taken to telling this story that I felt did a great job of adding much more substance to honestly the routine plot.
First, let’s talk about the lead performances. They were both excellent. I think Teresa Palmer is a great actress and highly underrated when compared to names like Kristen Stewart who usually gets many more roles. Palmer was fantastic in this film and continues to build on her resume of independent films by bringing in her best performance.
She was grounded in her delivery, felt very realistic, and Palmer does an effective job of conveying the range of emotions her character experiences while being locked in this apartment. With the help of the writing, Palmer’s character was easily able to connect with, and as a viewer you can see her mind constantly wrapping around the situation she was in. Throughout the film she continually probes the apartment for weaknesses and you can sense her determination in a believable way. And with the writing never trying too hard, you can relate to the situation her character is in and begin to formulate thoughts of what you would do in her position which naturally builds intrigue.
Max Riemelt was also extremely good in this film in what I would consider an understated performance. You can definitely sense the evil inside him, and what his capabilities are. But with a more soft-spoken personality you can see there are almost two sides to his personality. He is cold and calculated, but at the same time warm and loving, in his own way. And in my opinion this subtle persona was much more intimidating than the usual in-your-face, more boisterous or eccentric personalities these antagonists can often have.
Palmer and Riemelt also had a great chemistry with one another that effectively sells the romance early on. They also capture the calculated posturing between them as the story progresses. These were two very different dynamics but Palmer and Riemelt were able to pull them both off with an effective realism, that does a solid job of pulling you into the story.
Now as for the story. Like I said earlier it was a simple premise but told with a different approach that gives it a fresh feel that can make you invest in it, despite the recycled theme. After watching this movie, it was clear the only thing familiar with this script was the theme or plot, that being of a woman held captive. Beyond that aspect this film definitely stands on its own legs. After an opening to the character of Clare and the typical (woman on vacation in another country meets a charming local guy), trope is established. This story does go in its own direction and I enjoyed it. The story becomes methodical and doesn’t try to plug in every exact emotion it wants you to feel.
It sets the scene, builds on the situations, and does a fantastic job of guiding you through a foreboding story while letting you surmise your own thoughts and fears on what the main character is up against. It helps you connect with Clare’s helplessness but at the same time it aligns you with her process of silent and secretive calculation of a possible escape. I enjoyed how this story-line follows the captures life when he was not at the apartment as we went about his normal day.
This helps paint a clearer picture of who this man was, as well as building a backdrop to the mental deficiencies that had turned him into the psychopath he was. The script had a good flow between the lives of the two characters and you are able to learn more about them as the movie progresses in a time fashion. This effectively builds suspense and tension with a nice flow as it progresses through the acts.
On the downside, this was a long movie. At just under two-hours it was hindered by some pacing issues. Now I understand this could have been intentional to connect the viewer with the character of Clare. To help relate the viewer to the time she spent being confined. But there was a point in the story where this message was easily delivered, and it did not need to be circled around for so many scenes after. However, I really enjoyed “Berlin Syndrome” it was well-crafted and delivered some quality performances. I recommend this movie if you like stories like these. It may sound overly familiar in the synopsis, but it does show a lot of ambition in going its own direction.