By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
Going abroad is a fearful journey in itself, especially when making the trip by yourself. Director Cate Shortland decides to take that idea and place into the white knuckling genre of a thriller. Berlin Syndrome is an exceptionally exciting film with a layer of genre-topping its design. The narrative itself is something I don’t want to reveal too much, but it focuses on a journeying young girl visiting Berlin and finding herself in a secluded apartment in which she cannot leave. There are multiple twists and turns as expected with a thriller genre film, yet there are also various dramatically directed scenes that are a bit thought to provoke when we contemplate devotion and how open we should be with strangers. Should we keep safeguards when conversing with strangers or should we attempt to be more open? Berlin Syndrome is an example of these questions going in the wrong way.
Berlin Syndrome is a film that doesn’t shy away from independent stylistic filmmaking. Cate Shortland implements many purposeful shots, using slow motion at times to showcase the dreamlike sensation of experiencing a new country and its culture, being wrapped up in its enigmatic surroundings and the culturist ideas presented by this strange land. She also uses tracking shots and close-ups to showcase the surroundings of her entrapment as well as Clare (Teresa Palmer) contemplating the situation and her future of abnormality. The use of handheld camera shots is used to signify the tension being raised in these white knuckling and invested sequences that fail to disappoint. At times that vast amount of direction begins to drag the film’s middle act to its enticing finish line, and that second act at times struggles to carry itself when focusing on these characters.
Andi (Max Riemelt) and Clare (Teresa Palmer) relationship are developed and intriguing until this point because of the expansion of their characters confuse a bit. The further development of Andi (Max Riemelt) is fascinating in particularly due to how the screenplay, Shaun Grant, chooses to paint Andi in normality instead of providing some dark reasoning as to why he commits these actions. Shaun Grant wants to portray Andi (Max Riemelt) in a way that makes us contemplate our emotions for him, and instead, we choose to become engaged with him and his motivations as reasonable in a way. Meanwhile Clare is utterly profound in her character expansion, who begins to get relaxed with her surroundings in a way. As if she’s starting to embrace it as her new normality, which conflicts her character just a bit. There is also a heavy reliance on slow motion during this second act to showcase how this situation has become enticing as both of these people have transformed into someone else to adjust to their new lives.
These aren’t necessarily flaws of the film, but they are a bit confusing as to why these particular choices were chosen by the writer. As well as to why these shot designs were selected by Cate Shortland. Germain McMicking crafts a beautiful film with his enchanting cinematography and how he refuses to shy away from embracing the tone of the movie with its environment. His cinematography is alluringly mesmerizing at times with how he paints these scenes with color and shot placement. Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt are remarkably talented actors, and they showcase to their full capacity in Berlin Syndrome. Teresa Palmer is so intrigued with how she chooses to range her emotions as we do as if at times her character knows that the situation she is in could be worse if she begins to shed her resilience to show her emotions. Max Riemelt is incredible about his performance and how he remains so calm in the scenes that we see as abnormal or horrific at times, yet he remains stern and unrattled by the events and Clare’s reactions. These spectacular performances carry the film and intertwine with its enchanting filmmaking to create an enticing thriller that at times transitions to a romantic drama that artistically displays what an abusive relationship looks like when heightened to a situation of abduction.
Berlin Syndrome is a standout thriller by Cate Shortland, but even more Berlin Syndrome is an interesting glance at how an abusive relationship that is unbalanced can be seen as an entrapment for a partner who begins to feel suffocated by her surroundings. I’m not sure if this was Cate Shortland or Shaun Grant’s intentions for how the drama could play a role in the screenplay, but if it was by design than these creators need even more credit for this provocative film that may be hidden by its genre shell.