‘What would be the worst thing I could ever do to you?’
Horror is often a cyclical and repetitive genre. The success of Scream saw a return of teen slasher films, Paranormal Activity ensured that every horror film of the following five years looked like shit and had no discernible plot and Saw unleashed a horde of torture porn movies, each one nastier than the last.
While the sub-genre of kidnapping strays into torture porn they are different. The films themselves, Prisoners, The Captive, Taken, all tend to be quite similar so when you have something like Room, the 2015 masterpiece that made a star of Brie Larson, you have a movie that really stands out. Sadly, Berlin Syndrome is not that movie.
When Clare (Teresa Palmer) arrives alone in Berlin with a song in her heart and a backpack on her back, she is out for drinks, good times and the D. Not necessarily in that order. As horror has taught us though, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are a sure fire way to mayhem and destruction. Sure enough, her love affair with local boy Andi (Max Riemelt) takes a dark turn when he locks her in his flat.
Berlin Syndrome is interesting as it shows us how Clare was initially enticed by Andi and it does this in a way that feels genuine and believable. This means that everything that comes after that sequence feels much more earned, more plausible. Another positive is the performances of the leads. Australian actress Teresa Palmer and her German counterpart Max Riemelt share an authentic chemistry, whether that be in bed or when trying to murder each other. That Palmer and Riemelt are able to show both sides of that coin is a testament to their acting ability.
The problem with Berlin Syndrome is that while it is well executed, it is also derivative of many other films in this genre. As always, we aren’t really given any insight into why the kidnapper does what he does and several scenes, while a success in terms of building tension, are still wholly predictable.
Five years ago Berlin Syndrome would have gone down as a shining star on the horror landscape but this current golden age of horror ensures that everyone needs to raise their game. Berlin Syndrome is merely a decent, psychological thriller. That just isn’t enough to stand out any more.