Movie Review: Berlin Syndrome (2017)

 This review contains some spoilers.

Berlin Syndrome (2017) is an Australian psychological thriller that is set to release to international communities between May and July 2017. It may not show in Singapore as there has been no scheduled release dates so far. The film runs for 116 min and is rated R for violent content, sexuality, nudity, and coarse language.

The film is set in Berlin, Germany, and involves a relationship between a German English teacher (Andi) and an Australian tourist (Clare) with a penchant for photography. The relationship turns steadfastly dysfunctional as she realizes his intent on keeping her permanently in his apartment and when she discovers a Polaroid photograph of her back, engraved with the words “mine”. Andi leads a seemingly “double life” where he works as a school teacher and is generally well-liked by his colleagues and students.

In all, the film checked all the boxes for a good psychological thriller, in terms of how chilling and psychologically-focused it is. The film does a particularly good job in showing the cool, perverted side of Andi in contrast to his work life as a school teacher and a good son to his father, and in providing suitable atmospheres to its scenes. However, while it is well put together, it fails to draw in the viewer with its less-than-desired climax and repetitive, unneeded scenes. It could also do with more character development.

Even so, I appreciated some of the foreshadowing moments in the earlier parts of the film, such as when she stops to take a photograph of a woman fanning out a colorful sheet from her apartment, just before she meets Andi at a traffic junction. Another foreshadowing bit I enjoyed was when she stops at an alleyway and purchases some clothes (which she wore in the later part of the film when she grows increasingly dysfunctional) and a box of tiny films with photographs of architecture on them (Andi keeps Polaroid films of his victims in photobooks). I also particularly enjoyed the bit where she walks with him and she sees and picks up a wolf mask, putting it on her face briefly while Andi remains stoic. Who is the true wolf now? There was also a bit where there was a play on NSFW, where he said, “Next time, I’m gonna tie you up with ropes,” which actually did happen, just not in the way she probably would have expected.

My favorite part was the scene after they first had sex, in which he says, “I wish we could stay like this, where we don’t know each other,” and she asks, “What happens when you know someone?” He replies in German, “You can see all the ugliness”, but she does not understand this because she does not know German. He dismisses this, then replies in English, “I love your accent.”

I think the film could have been more engaging if there was more on Andi’s backstory. Some parts, such as the more draggy bits of her stay in the house, and the whole bit where he gifts her the dog that used to be his father’s could have been removed from the final cut as well. I mean, the dog even disappears towards the back part of the film when shit went down. Tbh, the film could actually be shortened to about 70-80 minutes.

With regard to whether this film made me think, yes it did, more so on being more careful when traveling, not trusting someone too much, and it made me more depressed than anything else because like I said, the atmosphere was done right. Alternatively, it also made me think about double lives that people lead. It may not be as drastic as Andi, but people do sometimes never show certain sides of themselves and say things they don’t quite mean. I enjoyed this play on the human condition.

TLDR: I’d recommend this film if:
1) you really enjoy psychological thrillers
2) you enjoy the niche theme of dysfunctional obsessive relationships + morbidness
3) you think Max Riemelt (Andi) is cute (I do think he’s pretty cute in the film, especially the bit where he wears glasses) and/or you want to see nudes of Teresa Palmer (Clare) (I have to say, she’s hot)

Overall rating: B 

A little bit about what my ratings mean:

  • A: Definitely worth a watch.
  • B: May appeal to some audiences.
  • C: Don’t even bother.
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