Like if Jenny Holzer wrote film reviews. The Parallax Review is a website dedicated to dissecting movies in terms of cultural context, ideology, aesthetics, and more. From Stalker to Hackers and beyond! Run by your girl, @okaythanksmaria

Berlin Syndrome (2017)


This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women

Berlin Syndrome is a slow-moving psychological thriller about a woman who has a really, really bad one night stand. The film's name is a play on the term Stockholm Syndrome, which is, unfortunately, the only interesting thing about this meandering, boring movie. I'd never heard of it's director, Cate Shortland, but it turns out she directed the upcoming Black Widow Marvel movie. A quick Google search also reveals that we share the same birthday. Usually, this is comforting to me because I like when anything suddenly gets related back to me, but, uh, I didn't like Berlin Syndrome one bit and I don't want to be associated with this at all. So let's just pretend she's a Taurus or something.

Anyway, Berlin Syndrome follows Clare (Teresa Palmer) after she lands in Berlin with a backpack and a lot of feelings. She's got a timid personality, but she's obviously down for an adventure since she's decided to quit her job in Brisbane and travel across the world to find herself. We don't learn enough about who she is before she meets Andi (Max Riemelt), her eventual captor. The two have very little romantic chemistry; their attraction to each other feels compelled by something broken inside each of them. Shortland does a decent job of establishing that both Clare and Andi are a bit off. We don't know much about Andi at first, but it's clear in Clare's sunken eyed gaze that she desperately needs someone or something to connect with. 

Unfortunately, she connects with Andi and he almost ruins her life. After they have what looks like the most passionless sex, Clare, in the afterglow of the hookup says, "I wish this would never end." Girl, bye! You 'bout to be trapped for MONTHS with this man you don't even know, good luuuuuuck!!!!! The morning after their sad night stand, Andi leaves for his teaching job at a nearby high school. Clare snoops around his apartment a bit and then, you know, tries to leave. Whoops, there's a big metal bar across his front door and there's no key and she can't get out!!! Clare is not a bad ass bitch. She's just a regular, broken ass woman who's about to be punished for going home with a man who happens to be a sadistic loser.

Clare is surprisingly chill (read: timid) about being locked in this man's house, and when Andi comes back she's like yesssiiiirrr, I think you forgot to leave me the key, so I like, couldn't leave your creepy isolated house, dude. And he's like, oh hardy-har, did I not leave the key? Well you can leave now. AND SHE DOES NOT. As you can imagine, Clare's trust in this lonely misogynist is twisted into a sick dependence and attraction to him. Yes, he traps her in his house and no, no one can hear her. The windows are reinforced and the SIM card on her phone has magically disappeared. Andi employs classic toxic male psychology (gaslighting and intermittent displays of affection/gifts) to make sure Clare confuses his sickness for love. 

Perhaps in another director's hands this film could captivate me. Shortland's direction is so muddy, however, that I found it hard to follow the sequence of events. The film also moves really slow—too slow for how little chemistry the two lead actors have together. We've seen these sort of erotically charged kidnapper/Stockholm Syndrome narratives before. But the fiery, twisted connection that Andi and Clare are supposed to have is tepid. This renders my dedication to seeing Clare make it out of this man's house alive casual, at best. I yelled at the screen a lot, desperately willing the film's two-hour runtime to speed the fuck up. There is one scene of violence, and it's not very interesting or scary. By the time it happens and the plot has advanced to its conclusion, I'm filing my nails, bitch. I needed out of this movie like Clare needed out of Andi's crumbling apartment.

You can watch this if you want, but I wouldn't recommend it at all. It's certainly not a horror movie. It's more like a thriller with a bit of blood. But if, like me, you secretly fantasize about being kidnapped and kept by a psychotic yet painfully sexy man, this isn't gonna do it for you. I'm gonna go watch Dead Calm and smoke a cigarette now.