Berlin Syndrome movie review: One of the most unpredictable, memorable thrillers of this year
If you’re in the mood for a terrific, claustrophobic thriller with excellent performances, foreboding atmosphere and an increasingly unpredictable plot – Berlin Syndrome is the film to watch this week. The film first garnered good reviews at Sundance earlier this year and we’re lucky that we get to see it in theaters in India.
Directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, Berlin Syndrome is a film that takes indie cinema sensibilities and expertly paints them onto a mainstream canvas.
It’s hard to describe the plot without giving away a crucial piece of information that would affect the way you perceive the film. The film is best enjoyed if you know practically nothing about it – so if you’re smart you should take my word for it, stop reading the rest of this review and go to the theater.
Those who want to know more, however, should only know that the film chronicles a young and attractive Australian girl named Clare (Teresa Palmer) who arrives in Berlin as a tourist. Clare is a stereotypical loner in search for something meaningful on her holiday, and seems to find what she was looking for in a local German man named Andi (Max Riemelt). Clare and Andi hook up, and their feelings for each other are so strong it seems like they’re at the onset of a whirlwind romance. Things of course, go extremely wrong.
The film has a slow burn buildup in the first twenty minutes or so, making you wonder where all this is leading to, but when director Shortland drops the hammer it’s a rather powerful and unsettling hit. That moment is so strong it sucks out the air around you, placing you firmly in Clare’s shoes as she tries and fails to battle the worst possible nightmare she is thrust into.
As the story progresses and the layers are peeled away every revelation seems more and more messed up, and Clare’s reactions to whatever she is facing are disturbingly realistic.
Germain McMicking’s cinematography is appropriately suffocating and the music by Bryony Marks walks that fine line between emotional and terrifying. Shortand’s unique direction often makes you wonder whether you should feel for persons who commit atrocities because they’re humans too. And she executes this philosophical question without dialogue but with silences powerful imagery.
A lot of credit goes to both Palmer and Riemelt who simply disappear into their characters, and whose dymanics are so convincing it’s creepy.
The second half of the film will make you squirm in your seats as a race against time is initiated, leading to a finale that is both satisfying and also thought provoking.
Berlin Syndrome is ultimately a genre film, and you may have seen other films that deal with the themes explored here before, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another film that executes the themes in the poetic, almost painterly way that Shortland does.
It’s definitely not a film for the faint hearted, and but those willing to stick with the film for the sluggish first twenty minutes will be rewarded with one of the most memorable thrillers of the year.