Berlin Syndrome is a bad film with the spectral outline of a better film around it. We follow Brisbane backpacker Clare (Teresa Palmer) through a Berlin jaunt that takes a dark turn when a hook-up – English teacher Andi (Max Riemelt) – turns out to have no intention of letting her leave his apartment.
The days stretch on, escape attempts are thwarted, and Shaun Grant’s screenplay fails to justify our playing witness to Clare’s torment. Director Cate Shortland strives for meaning, for poetry (read: shallow-focus close-ups with soaring strings), for something and comes up empty. There are feints towards Germany’s dark history, and misshapen metaphors for oppressive relationships, but it comes off a thriller that can’t manage to be thrilling.
You can imagine how this could have worked. How it could have played as a dark satire of romance twisted into horror, like Audition or Rosemary’s Baby (Palmer, mostly wasted here, approximates Farrow’s pallor in the latter). It’s mostly just icky, though; Shortland seems more interest in objectifying her frequently-undressed leading lady than giving her a personality. Ah, but the flashes of extravagant unreality – Clare playing up to Andi’s camera, lost in ecstatic gothic reverie – suggests the film that might have been.