A film with a simplistic, overdone message surrounded by nihilistic garbage.
Nothing Bad Can Happen
In Nothing Bad Can Happen, a “provocative” film without truly provoking, Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is a homeless teen who, in the film’s opening, gets baptized in a lake. He’s a new member of the Jesus Freaks, a group of young punks taking a more extreme approach to religion and living a life similar to Jesus. When Tore comes upon a family trying to fix their car he prays for Jesus to fix it, and miraculously the car comes back to life. Tore’s devotion intrigues the family’s patriarch Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), who soon shows up at a Jesus Freaks sermon.
Tore, an epileptic, has a seizure during a concert at the sermon, prompting Benno to take him back to his place. Benno takes a liking to Tore, letting him sleep in a tent outside the family’s run-down summer home despite the protests of his girlfriend Astrid (Annika Kuhl). If Benno’s satanic-looking tattoos don’t drop the hint well enough, his creepy affection toward Astrid’s 15-year-old daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof) establishes something sinister going on within the family. Benno starts physically abusing Tore, and with nowhere to go (by this point the Jesus Freaks have disbanded) he stays, enduring all sorts of horrors.
Writer/director Katrin Gebbe, making her feature-length debut, appears to be going somewhere interesting the film’s first act. Her set-up of Benno & Tore’s relationship provides a lot of intrigue, especially when the abuse starts. But as the film trudges along at a pace more “slow” than “slow burn,” Gebbe shows how uninterested she is in explaining motivations (the film is “based on true events,” a statement so overused by now it has no impact whatsoever). Benno tortures Tore because he’s just evil, a piss-poor representation of humanity’s dark, nihilistic qualities, while Tore represents pure, unwavering devotion and faith.
The exploration of nihilism versus faith appears to be all Gebbe concerns herself with, as other ideas in the film are swallowed up by the brutality on display. Her themes of religion are almost identical with Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, and the film’s use of frivolous chapter titles gives a pretty damning case of it amounting to nothing more than a bad ripoff. It also shows how stale Gebbe’s approach is, going over ideas done many times over by better filmmakers.
And when Gebbe’s skills behind the camera no longer cover up her vacuous take on the subject matter, the film goes from intriguing to annoyingly offensive. Tore believes his suffering is a test by Jesus, and Gebbe turns her film into a vicious cycle of one torturous scene after another. Tore is beaten, humiliated, raped, abused and spat on (and that’s not all of it), and through it all his belief in God never wavers. Scenes meant to shock, like Astrid & Benno force-feeding Tore rotten chicken, or Benno drowning a cat while telling Tore to pray for its rescue, leave no impact at all. This is nothing more than torture porn with an arthouse sheen.
Gebbe refuses to stop, though, and by the climax her film is nothing more than pure sadism. This kind of extreme violence has been used before to better effect (Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is a good example), but at least those films had something interesting to say. Gebbe’s boring, uninspired take on good and evil exemplifies itself when Benno stands over a bloodied, mutilated Tore. “Where is your God now?” Benno asks. “In here,” Tore says, pointing to his own heart. Nothing Bad Can Happen is a film with a simplistic, overdone message surrounded by nihilistic garbage.