3 stars
Picture this, a naïve young female traveller on her first foray into the big bad world meets a handsome charismatic man in a strange city, goes back to his flat, and… Seen it all before?
This version of the story, however, succeeds in giving its audience some new chills and some new perspective. Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome is an adaptation of the debut novel of the same name by young Australian author Melanie Joosten. As the title suggests, it’s set in an abandoned apartment block in the former East Berlin, which creates an uneasy, foreboding atmosphere; it feels sort of transitional, like it’s a space caught between two worlds.

Clare (Teresa Palmer), a physically slight architectural photographer from Australia, meets a handsome East Berliner, Andi, an English teacher, when they have a ‘chance’ meeting on a street corner. They soon hook up and Clare ends up taking her minimal gear over to his place. When she awakes in the morning after a night of passion, Andi has gone off to work and left her locked in his apartment and there’s no-one around to hear her shouts or notice her confinement. Upon his return, Andi apologises, saying he thought he’d left her a spare key. Clare, fresh in the thrall of her feelings for him, accepts this but the next day something similar happens, and the day after that, and the day after that. The weeks turn into months, marked by the falling leaves and drifting snowflakes outside the apartment window, which add to Clare’s sense of suffocation. She’s seemingly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, the condition that can develop when a captive forms an attachment to their captor, and there’s nothing she can do but keep her wits about her, even while still harbouring feelings for Andi though his behaviour is becoming increasingly dangerous. The film shows how evil minds do not necessarily come housed in ugly bodies. Just take a look at a serial killers’ gallery and see for yourself - remember Ted Bundy?

Berlin Syndrome is a stark reminder of just how vulnerable solo female travellers are when they set off to discover the world. Exposing oneself to the unknown can sometimes lead to getting caught up in situations that are totally unexpected. This is a fine portrayal of that risk and it’s well executed by the lead players. Palmer is exceptional as the confused girl who’s simultaneously trapped while not exactly yearning to be free and the German actor Riemelt makes it easy for us to understand why Clare is in this conflicted state of mind. Shaun Grant, who wrote the very dark script of Snowtown, is adept at writing this kind of off-kilter material and here he’s portrayed this fractured relationship as not dissimilar to living under a totalitarian regime, somehow mirroring both Clare’s mental state and Andi’s, who grew up trapped behind the Wall. Berlin Syndrome is a thriller that delivers.


Previewed at Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 4 April 2017.

Teresa Palmer
Max Riemelt
Matthias Habich

Cate Shortland

Shaun Grant



116 minutes

April 20, 2017
Berlin Syndrome (2017) on IMDb
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