Based on Melanie Joosten's award-winning 2011 debut novel of the same name, this latest film from acclaimed Australian director Cate Shortland (SOMERSAULT; LORE) is a beguiling marriage of artsy character study and abduction horror.

Clare (Teresa Palmer) is a photojournalist backpacking through Germany and having a generally nice time, when she bumps into Andi (Max Riemelt) one afternoon. He's a local who teaches English. The rapport they share is sufficient for her to join him for more conversation, and then eventually back to his apartment where their mutual physical attraction takes over and carnal desires are fulfilled. Post-coitus, both lie on Andi's bed breathlessly exclaiming how they'd love to just stay in this moment forever.

The following morning, Andi has to leave early for work. Clare saunters around his spacious flat for a while, and then decides to go out for a walk. Alas, the door is locked and she can't find the key. Slightly bemused, she awaits Andi's return.

When Andi gets home, he apologises for having locked Clare in and reasons that he left a key for her on a kitchen worktop. She accepts his explanation, enjoys more lovemaking and stays another night. When she next awakes, Andi has already left for work again ... and Clare finds she's one again locked in the apartment.

This is no mistake. Her necklace is missing. The word "mein" (mine) has been scribed onto her shoulder. The SIM card has been removed from her mobile 'phone. Clare attempts to smash one of the apartment's windows, only to discover they've been reinforced.

Andi returns. He calmly reminds a sobbing Clare that she told him she wanted to stay, and sets about preparing their evening meal. An incredulous, scared Clare is trapped.

To begin with, Andi has Clare tied by her hands and feet to a bed in the apartment. He casually assures her that it's no use screaming: no-one is around to hear her cries. Indeed the apartment's building appears to be otherwise derelict. He beats her when she's unruly, has sex with her at will and drags her across the floor by her hair. All the while, his voice rarely rises above a calm level as he offers her meals, jigsaw puzzles and - bizarrely - friendship.

In-between abducting and abusing Clare, Andi maintains an aura of normalcy outside of the apartment. He continues to teach at school, and enjoys amiable chats with his father (Matthias Habich) who he visits frequently - even going so far as to tell his Dad he's currently seeing an Australian student named Clare.

As time draws on and the festive period looms, Clare's mood appears to brighten and she becomes apparently more agreeable to Andi's advances. Indeed, when he needs to leave her alone for a few days, she's positively relieved when he finally returns.

But this is far from a conventional relationship, of course, and various outside influences - a family death, a missing person ad, a curious student - advance the claustrophobic plot towards its tense final act.

Working from Shaun Grant's adapted screenplay, Shortland takes her time setting the scene and building an atmosphere of incremental in an almost subliminal way. This understated approach allows us to probe Andi's psychological background in an unforced manner, and really get to understand and sympathise with Clare.

Meanwhile, interesting comments on domesticity and relationships in general are made throughout, while Clare's foray into developing Stockholm Syndrome (which the film's title clearly plays on) makes for an intriguing and plausible point for post-film conversation.

The suspense is palpable throughout, but this is as much about its characters and their complex relationship as it is about the ostensibly familiar plot. Shortland is savvy enough to offer a fresh spin on potentially cliched material: this is no voyeuristic torture porn like SCRAPBOOK, the only graphic sex is shown in the earlier scenes, where Clare is actually enjoying the experience.

Performances are great, as are the cinematography, production design and editing. Considerately scored and always in touch with its human side, BERLIN SYNDROME is one to be savoured by those who don't mind a horror film taking its time and mulling over psychological aspects in favour of cheap gore (though there are couple of jolting moments of violence).

Curzon/Artificial Eye are releasing BERLIN SYNDROME on UK DVD and blu-ray. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray to review.

The film is presented fully uncut - 115 minutes and 57 seconds in length - and in full 1080p HD, housed as a pleasingly sized MPEG4-AVC file on this region B-encoded disc. The original 2.35:1 ratio is adhered to and, by default, is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Though the bulk of the film takes place indoors and is therefore quite intentionally drab on a visual level, there are the occasional exterior moments which demonstrate how vivid and filmic this transfer truly is. Darker scenes are solid, free from noise. Colours and flesh tones are rendered accurately throughout; images are crisp and clear at all times.

Audio, which is mainly English but with the occasional line in German, is presented in options of 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. Both tracks are clean, consistent propositions. The disc promises the option of English subtitles but I found that whether these were turned on or off made no difference: we get subtitles for the German passages, but none to cater for the English dialogue. The subtitles are easy to read at all times, incidentally.

An animated main menu page leads us to pop-up menus including the option of a scene selection allowing access to the film by way of 12 chapters.

We also get a well-edited 15-minute Behind The Scenes featurette which offers an enjoyable mixture of talking head-style cast and crew interviews, on-set footage and clips from the completed film.

In addition, the film's original trailer is an engaging affair which runs for just over 2 minutes in length.

BERLIN SYNDROME is a highly absorbing, character-led horror-thriller with excellent performances and insights into the complexity of relationships. It's served well on Curzon/Artificial Eye's blu-ray disc.


Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Curzon/Artificial Eye