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Review: Patience is rewarded in suspenseful ‘Berlin Syndrome’

Max Riemelt and Teresa Palmer in the film "Berlin Syndrome."
(Vertical Entertainment)

Director Cate Shortland and screenwriter Shaun Grant are often too reserved in adapting Melanie Joosten’s 2011 suspense novel, “Berlin Syndrome,” but when it counts, they deliver the necessary nail-biting anxiety. Telling the story of a psychopath and his sex-slave, the film balances the clinical and visceral.

Max Riemelt plays Andi, a Berlin high-school teacher who flirts too much with his students, is socially awkward with his peers and has a dysfunctional relationship with his aging dad. Teresa Palmer is Clare, an Australian photographer who abandons a backpacking tour of Germany to have a fling with the hunky, helpful Andi.

After two nights of passion, Clare realizes her host won’t let her leave his locked, soundproof apartment. The bulk of “Berlin Syndrome” follows the parallel stories of a predator’s pathetic daily life and his prey’s attempt to plot an escape.

A lot of the action is internal, which means the plot isn’t always easy to follow, and the pace crosses the line from “deliberate” to “poky.” But unlike most “deviant madman” movies, “Berlin Syndrome” gets to know the victim, appreciating that her need for an emotional connection makes her a tragic figure.

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Shortland and Grant build to a climactic final act that’s almost unbearably intense. Audiences should leave the theater with their hearts racing — even if they checked their watch more than once during the first hour.

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‘Berlin Syndrome’

Rating: R, for disturbing violent content strong sexuality, nudity and some language

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

Playing: ArcLight Hollywood

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