Many films can easily make you laugh or cry in the moment, but few can shake you to your very core from the get-go and keep you there for its duration and beyond. ‘Berlin Syndrome’ - a title that’s a play on the term Stockholm Syndrome - doesn’t use extreme violence, jump scares, CGI creatures or slow-walking killers in masks to strike fear into its audiences hearts. It uses plausibility, possibility, deprivation of liberty and psychotic behaviour to leave you shaking in your boots - or in my case, my cinema chair thanks to the tension and adrenaline running through my body.
Clare (Teresa Palmer, ‘Warm Bodies’) is a solo traveller in Berlin just trying to take beautiful photos of architecture while yearning for the worldly experiences that everyone seems to have had besides her. When a chance encounter with a handsome and charming local leads to a weekend tryst, things go from blissfully romantic to bone-chillingly terrifying when Clare realises that her new paramour Andi (Max Riemelt, ‘Sense 8’) has locked her inside his apartment with no chance of escape.
‘Berlin Syndrome’ is a slow torturous burn - in a fantastically thrilling way. As mentioned before, there’s no overt, gratuitous violence or sexual assault - all the fear and tension amounts from the unpredictability of both characters and the juxtaposition of Max going about his everyday life compared to Clare’s emotional and mental decline. At just under two hours in duration, some may feel that ‘Berlin Syndrome’ drags on a little, in particular, scenes where Clare is just padding around the apartment. Rest assured, this is calculated. This film is nothing if not immersive. We need to feel the time drag on. We need to feel Clare’s isolation, frustration and mental instability.
‘Berlin Syndrome’ is a slow torturous burn - in a fantastically thrilling way.
Palmer is simply superb. I’ve always been a fan of Teresa Palmer, even if I don’t always agree with her choice in projects (‘Point Break’, anyone?) but she’s never shied away from a challenge or the raw vulnerability of a character. Clare is very interesting. She’s actually quite timid on the outside while emotionally brave on the inside. However, once enveloped by her kidnap situation, she become a fierce and formidable woman. While most films would turn someone like Clare into a scared and meek victim, here we actually see Clare go toe-to-toe with her captor, creating a unique and engrossing relationship that surprises us all.
‘Berlin Syndrome’ is a fantastic thriller for those wanting to know what ‘Taken’ would have been like is Kim didn’t have Liam Neeson as her father, or anyone who wants to know what a two-hour adrenaline rush/anxiety attack looks like. It’s awesome.