Film Review: Nothing Bad Can Happen

Dark German family drama out-Danes the Danish in Nordic bleakness.

Inspired by true events, Nothing Bad Can Happen is an unsettling contemporary drama about religious faith and sexual violence, written and directed by 30-year-old first-timer Katrin Gebbe.

Reactions at the film's official Un Certain Regard premiere at Cannes 2013 were extreme, with some booing, perhaps triggered by the queasy subject matter more than any obvious technical flaws. While hardly an upbeat date movie, Nothing Bad Can Happen is intense and gripping, with solid indie credentials. A U.S. distribution deal with Drafthouse was finalized in Cannes on screening day.

Julius Feldmeier plays Tore, a gullible but openhearted young man who has found a home with a “punk” Christian sect based in a large, ramshackle house in the northern German city of Hamburg. Though his background remains unexplained, Tore is clearly a vulnerable lost soul looking for somewhere to belong. Following a chance encounter with outwardly charming family man Benno (Sascha Gersak), which he takes to be a sign from God, Tore drifts away from the sect and slowly becomes absorbed into a new surrogate family.

But there is something rotten at the heart of this apparently normal, welcoming family unit. Benno’s short-fuse temper, disturbingly intimate behavior toward his 15-year-old tomboy daughter, Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof), and growing contempt for Tore’s religious principles push all of them into a bruising battle of wills that involves animal torture, rotting meat, prostitution and rape. The film climaxes with a torrid crescendo of psychosexual sadism and Biblical symbolism reminiscent of Lars von Trier at his most pessimistic. A German film that attains Danish levels of soul-crushing bleakness? High praise indeed.

Divided into three chapters—Faith, Love and Hope—Nothing Bad Can Happen has the jumpy camerawork, tight domestic focus and self-consciously dark subject matter that often signify a youthful debut. The midsection drags a little, when Tore seems to dither over whether to flee from Benno’s evil machinations or test his own faith by staying. A tighter edit would have helped here. All the same, Gebbe has made a robust and compelling first feature, deftly shot and ably acted, especially by its younger cast members.

The Hollywood Reporter

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