Berlin Syndrome

Room has certainly inspired similar films to come out of the woodwork. Berlin Syndrome is the latest, taking the concept of one person locked in a room against her will. Presented as a thriller, Berlin Syndrome is a cat and mouse game that never finds a profound message. Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge) called this role a liberating acting experience, however beyond her embracing of nudity, there isn’t much to her performance. The cinematographer is charged with telling this story more so than actors, script or plot. Many moments in the two-hour film are without dialogue, effort or even purpose. Brief scenes of attempted and failed escape prolonged the inevitable. The title is a play on the Stockholm Syndrome condition, but we never get an explanation of what exactly Palmer’s character is experiencing or dealing with besides fear.

Traveling from Brisbane to Berlin alone, Clare (Palmer) says yes to anyone who approaches her. “Yes” to hanging out on the rooftop of her hostel, “yes” to the stranger she meets on the street, “yes” to sex with the stranger she just met because she feels lonely. Of course, this type of reckless behavior for a young, beautiful woman, traveling alone never ends well. Her stranger hookup Andi (Riemelt), turns out to be a twisted high school teacher who abducts female tourists for his pleasure. He seduces them with charisma, takes them to his secluded apartment and they are never seen again. Clare attempts escape many times, tries violence towards Andi, emotional pleading, nothing works. “Can’t you just be normal” Andi says when she doesn’t act the way he prefers while dressed up in pink lingerie, snapping polaroid’s.

The cinematographer is charged with telling this story more so than actors, script or plot.

During their initial “hook-up”, Clare muffles her pleasure. “It’s ok, no one can hear you”, Andi responds. This should have been her first real clue something wasn’t right. Shaun Grant’s script doesn’t give us enough details on anything, but the character development is the biggest blunder. IMDB describes Clare as a photojournalist, but we never see her do anything more than take random pictures of abstract reality. Andi is a teacher like his father, but we don’t get more information on how he became this monster. Moments of violence are sprinkled throughout the film, but not enough to call Berlin Syndrome a horror film. This could easily be edited to play on the Lifetime network.

Like the worst thrillers, Berlin Syndrome has enough down time, where nothing is moving forward, the audience has time to contemplate what they would do in Clare’s situation. Grant’s script, based on a novel, never portrays our leading lady as brave, intelligent or resilient. If anything, most of her actions are downright stupid and often her acceptance of the situation does begin to drift into Stockholm Syndrome. The ending is as unsatisfying as the rest of the film, never giving the audience the emotional or physical conclusion we stuck around for. Curiosity might get you to the closing credits, but you won’t be happy with the time you spent here.

Final Thought

An unsatisfying thriller that lacks intelligence and development.


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