DIFF Review: Berlin Syndrome

Score: B

Director: Cate Shortland

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Lucie Aron

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rated: NR

The "trapped by a stranger" plot has always been one of my favorite horror stories. From Misery to 10 Cloverfield Lane and beyond, there's an inherent tension that can always be elevated by great acting, direction and editing. Berlin Syndrome has at least two of the three.

Teresa Palmer, an Australian actress who's mainly been used as generic blond American girlfriends and wives, finally gets a role with some substance. She's Clare, an Australian photographer who arrives in Germany to travel and do some soul-searching. She's almost immediately smitten with Andi, a local schoolteacher who says all the right things and shows her a great day in the German capital. She decides to delay her trip to Dresden to spend one more day (and night) with Andi. They make love at his apartment, secluded from the rest of the city. When he goes to work the next day, she finds she's locked in, the windows are painted shut and there's absolutely no way out.

While Clare is able-bodied, it's not much of an advantage when Andi has thought of literally everything to keep her locked away without anyone being able to hear or see her, or for her to contact anyone in the outside world.

Of course, with the genders flipped from the most famous versions of this type of story, there's a sexual component that in the wrong hands could feel gross and uncomfortable. Luckily, director Cate Shortland doesn't shy away from the seedier aspects of the story, but neither does she indulge in the films more graphic scenes.

What keeps Berlin Syndrome from the upper echelon of thrillers is its pacing. There's a whole subplot with Andi's father that adds some, shall we say, interesting character development. But ultimately it doesn't add much to the story itself. It could have lost all those scenes, confining the action just to Andi's apartment/dungeon and his awkward encounters at his school and been a tighter, leaner film.

Still, this is a sharp, entertaining, thought-provoking movie that will liven up your Netflix queue.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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