Berlin Syndrome (4 stars)

Berlin Syndrome

Cate Shortland is at the helm of a rigorously humanised backpacking thriller

What begins as a Before Sunrise-style holiday romance quickly morphs into Room in this exercise in unease – a nailbiting, yet rigorously humanised thriller based on Melanie Joosten's novel from Australian director Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore).

Star-in-the-offing Teresa Palmer gives a nuanced, gutsy turn as Clare, a young Aussie photographer who puts her life on pause to travel to the eponymous city. After a reassuringly conventional 'meet-cute', she throws caution to the wind, entering into a highly-charged fling with harmless-seeming teacher Andi (Max Riemelt). When he traps her in his isolated apartment, Clare finds out that in the rundown districts of outer Berlin, no-one can hear you scream.

Movies exploring backpacking nightmares have tended toward the grindhouse (Eli Roth's Hostel for instance, or Greg McLean's Wolf Creek) but this female director doesn't deliver the feminist skew you might expect. Instead, there's a touch of Repulsion as Clare struggles with her sanity and, in contrast to schlocky genre precursors, Shortland explores the 'banality of evil' – represented by a man who presents an ordinary face to the world and boasts the ultimate in innocuous professions but who hides an aggressively misogynistic outlook. Scenes of Andi blithely going about his day without arousing a speck of suspicion chill as much as the film's most graphic violence.

Fidgety camerawork conveys the anxiety and elation of lone-travelling while the generous runtime accentuates the gruelling nature of Clare's ordeal. Although near-miss escape attempts deliver the expected tension and the end is a tad fudged, this is far more than a vehicle for cheap shocks.

General release from Fri 9 Jun.

Berlin Syndrome

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Australia
  • 1h 56min
  • Directed by: Cate Shortland
  • Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron

Australian photographer Clare puts her life on pause to travel to Berlin where she enters into a highly-charged fling with harmless-seeming teacher Andi. A nailbiting, yet rigorously humanised thriller based on Melanie Joosten's novel.

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