Film: “Berlin Syndrome”; Director: Cate Shortland; Cast: Teresa Palmer and Max Reimelt; Rating: ***
This matter-of-fact brisk and tactile thriller doesn’t take long to get down to the business on hand. Delving into the psyche of a sociopath who is a normal working-class bloke is not easy. The evil here is more suggested than manifested. Which is why when the young Australian tourist Clara (Teresa Palmer) in Germany is seduced by the suave well-read Andi (Max Reimelt) we know what she doesn’t.
In spite of his academic charm and obedient-son act with his old father, just how dangerous Max actually is, doesn’t take long to be manifested. The awfully-titled “Berlin Syndrome” (sounds like an outbreak of a virus) is one of the most lucid testaments to a twisted mind in recent times.
Andi’s reasons to imprison Clara are so clear in his head…and so sordid in the bed. The film is shot in stark unforgiving shades of intangible evil giving to the cat-and-mouse game a kind of immediacy and desperation that makes our hearts sink to the dingy unlit floor.
To be honest, there isn’t much cat-and-mouse here. Clara’s captivity is so well-planned and so scarily final you wonder how and when the film will seek out a happy ending for her. The denouement is so sloppily and hastily planned it almost kills the impact of the rest of this horrific tale of the teacher and the ‘taut’.
The film’s biggest achievement is its depiction of monstrous spatial disharmony in a confined apartment block. The director makes sure Clara’s captivity is not a force to be taken lightly. She infuses every moment of Clara’s agony with a perceptive yet elusive urgency. There is a sense doom and destruction cutting through the film’s brutally unrelating narration.
And Teresa Palmer makes her character’s nightmarish predicament seem so credible, she puts us in an inescapable sense of desperation.
In spite of a messy conveniently done end-game, the film works well as a warning to all single girls travelling alone in foreign lands. Please don’t befriend strangers. And if you do, make sure to tell your mother to check on you the next morning.
By Subhash K. Jha