An Australian Backpacker meets a charming and educated man in Berlin, when they spend their first night together she doesn’t realise that she will not be able to leave the apartment. Her struggle over many months to gain her freedom leads her to develop an emotional connection with the man who keeps her captive.
At the start of Berlin Syndrome, and as you know me by now, I hadn’t got a clue what the film was and what was going to happen in the running time. I don’t like to know too much about the films I’m covering before going into the screening. There are times in the IFI Dublin you get the high art films, then you have some amazing documentaries and foreign films, and other times you get little gems of horror that know how to hit your fear pressure points. Berlin Syndrome came out of nowhere and just nails its colours to the wall.
What sets this apart from the usual torture porn that normally is let loose on us is that the tormentor here Andi, played by the wonderfully menacing and yet loving Max Riemelt, is a complete character in his own right. He’s not just a terror without purpose, he is a real human, and the scary part of him is that he could be the nice guy you work with. The Aussie Backpacker is played by Kristen Stewart look-a-like Teresa Palmer, I’m not joking about the appearance, it’s slightly off-putting at the start as you have to continue to tell yourself that she’s not the Twilight Girl. Palmer offers a perfect scream Queen survivor, like Jamie Lee Curtis at the start of her career. Her Doe Eyed act is steadily replaced by the desperation to live, and need to escape, you feel the dependency on Andi growing and yet the want to be free from her prison.
When we venture out from the apartment with Andi it aids the story as you want to know how this sociopath works in the outside world and the film makers want to show you it. Too many times in horror movies they fail to make you see the killer/sociopath as a human. This can work in great strides for the story as it confuses the movie goer in the best possible way. There is a worrying part when a film maker does this correctly as you start to see, however slight, parts of yourself in the tormentor. That is scary.
Berlin Syndrome does for backpacking in Germany what Wolf Creek did for Australia and what Hostel did for Eastern Europe. It’s better than those two films as you get to know more about the killer/sociopath and his personal reasons for the keeping of the girl. My main problem with the film is that it runs too long, there could have easily been 30 minutes cropped from the two-hour running time without affecting the quality. There are a number of times near the end of the film that a resolution could have been provided and kept the punchy feeling of the film, but there is a feeling that I have, and this is just Uncle Gar, that they had many ideas on how to end the film. Instead of working through them naturally they placed them all in the film and decided what to whittle out.
Fans of psychological horror will enjoy this film and if you liked Room there are a few instances where you have something to remember. For me it’s as close to perfect psychological horror as you’re going to get this year. Do what you can to catch this one!
Director: Cate Shortland
Writers: Shaun Grant, Melanie Joosten, Cate Shortland
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron