Review: Cate Shortland's 'Berlin Syndrome' Starring Teresa Palmer & Max Riemelt

Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome is one of those "pretty white girl gets kidnapped on vacation" movies. It's basically like Snatched, only without any jokes to speak of, and without any of the cat-and-mouse stuff these thrillers usually bank on. Instead, it's a movie that focuses less on the capture, and almost entirely on the captivity. This not only gives it a headiness we don't often get from the genre, but when the psychological and physical aspects start to play out, they are all the more intense.

The only real issue with Shortland and screenwriter Shaun Grant's approach is that it's sometimes too introspective when a real drive in momentum is needed. In another strong performance that hopefully won't go unnoticed, Australian actress Teresa Palmer plays Clare, a photographer making her way through Berlin alone, taking photos of old buildings. Or at least that's what she says; clearly this is a woman in search of something, a connection, that she wasn't getting at home. That also makes her an easy mark for the handsome, intelligent Andi (Max Riemelt), a schoolteacher who says all the right things. He seems like a nice, gentle guy; winning Clare over with his sensitivity and knowledge of Berlin's hot spots. A passionate night at his flat turns into two days, then three. Clare is finding everything she had hoped for, even joking with Andi over wanting to stay there with him. She gets her wish. When Andi has left for work, Clare comes to discover the door has been locked. The windows are locked, reinforced, soundproof. Her phone has also been disabled.

What's interesting about Berlin Syndrome is how long it takes for Clare to come to grips with her situation. In the beginning she seems to have no idea, or at least she has shut herself off to the possibility that the guy who was so sweet is keeping her hostage. Or, and this is even more disturbing, but she seems okay with it because in a way it IS kind of sweet to be wanted so badly. But there are signs all around that she is not the first woman Andi has held there, and they are no longer around.

Grant's script does split our attention to not only follow Clare and her slow descent into realization, madness, and a form of acceptance, but also to Andi's daily life away from home. We see that he clearly has a problem with women, failing to connect with female co-workers, including a young student he begins a dangerous infatuation with. But we also see him on the street scouting for who could ultimately be Clare's replacement. He comes across as charming while in predator mode, but awkward in actual conversation, as if women are only deserving of the facade and not the reality. His story doesn't work quite as well because it comes across like a setup to a big final act save (which it is) rather than a natural build of his character. Meanwhile, Clare struggles with her desire to escape and the intense loneliness she feels while Andi is gone, so much that she kind of looks forward to her captor's return home.

It's a twisted mess Shortland portrays but a captivating one, even through the slow periods. Obviously, with a title like Berlin Syndrome she's displaying some form of Stockholm Syndrome, where the kidnapped begins to identify with her kidnapper. Whether one can relate to Shortland's thoughtful style will go a long way in their "enjoyment" (It's not really a movie to be enjoyed), but either way it's a deep look inside the minds of the predator and his prey that the big screen rarely affords.

Rating: 3 out of 5