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Nothing Bad Can Happen | Blu-Ray Review

Nothing Bad Can Happen CoverAfter scooping up the New Auteur Award at AFI Fest 2013, Nothing Bad Can Happen continued to garner a decidedly divisive response upon a limited theatrical release (which began after the Cannes premiere in 2013 Un Certain Regard Sidebar, where the jeers were as resounding as the guffaws, with director, cast, and UCR President Thomas Vinterberg in attendance). At best a lurid conversation piece about despicable tendencies in human nature and at worst a hopelessly exploitative examination of based-on-a-true event terror, Gebbe’s film is a slippery slope of degradation with a heavy dose and conjecture and assumption.

Gebbe’s debut doesn’t quite reach the same levels of finesse as uncomfortably similar fare and often tries too hard to be shockingly provocative, sometimes at the expense of some narrative and character development. Nevertheless, Gebbe’s film never loses its choke-hold and will have you squirming uncomfortably until its final frames.

Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is a kindly drifter who we assume has been abandoned by his family like many of the ragtag misfits in the group he is now affiliated with known as The Jesus Freaks. Living (or maybe even squatting) in what looks like frat house squalor somewhere in Hamburg, Tore seems to have found a carefree niche where Jesus is the name of the game at every waking minute. A chance encounter finds Tore helping out a stalled vehicle containing the family of Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) by praying for Jesus’ salvation to restore the car to working order.

Eerily, the car starts after Tore’s prayer, and thus begins a friendly rapport between Benno and Tore. Benno’s wife has two children that don’t seem to care for their rough around the edges stepdad, but the shyly sweet teenage Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof) catches the awkward Tore’s eye. When he discovers that other members of the Jesus Freaks have questionable moral values when it comes to premarital sex, he absconds to Benno’s rundown home and is offered residence in a tent outside the house. While Benno’s behavior towards Tore is uneasy from their first very encounter, things quickly spiral out of control as Tore witnesses the family’s many dysfunctions, which soon sees Benno and his wife abusing the poor lad, who assumes that it is his assigned burden from god to accept this punishment and perhaps save the innocent Sanny from similar treatment.

There’s a fine line to be crossed in cinema of provocation. High art can easily become exploitation, and Nothing Bad Can Happen unfortunately can’t cloak its ribald manipulations, instead daring us with its cruelty to look away. While the establishing foreboding atmosphere is quite chilling, around the time Tore is force fed the rotting carcass of a moldy, gray chicken and is granted a miraculous escape from his emotional captors only to promptly return to the clutches of depravity, the film loses all semblance of rationality. Instead, those rather mocking sequences which showed us the ridiculous simple-mindedness of the Jesus Freaks at the film’s opening positions Tore as a Christ-like figure, sent to willingly endure despicable human horrors so that we may be forgiven for our sins. And that’s exactly where the film fails to be compelling, showing Tore to be the ultimate martyr, who succinctly sums up for us that without his faith he’d have no hope, which, of course, implies that it’s his irrational faith that let’s himself be treated like a mongrel dog. We have little sympathy for Tore, while the abusive actions of the adults, which quickly become horrific, seem unjustified, especially when a couple that’s friends with Benno and his wife become privy to the abuse and jump on board without thinking twice.

Disc Review

Drafthouse Films gives its shocking title a masterful presentation on Blu-ray, presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio that includes a Digital Download option. A twenty page insert booklet includes a transcription of an interview with the director, material that also comprises the disc’s two additional features.

Interview with Director Katrin Gebbe
Gebbe discusses inspiration and intention of the title, how she had also been reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot during development, and her wish to shape Tore into a modern day Christ figure.

Interview with Gebbe, Producer Verena Grafe-Hoft, and actor Julius Feldmeier
More questions fielded by Gebbe and one of the film’s producers, while Feldmeier talks about his experiences filming some of the toughest scenes.

Final Thoughts

While Feldmeier and Gersak are both exceptional in their characterizations, there’s something that doesn’t quite sit well by the closing credits. Gebbe gleefully announces that the film is based on a true story right after its final, shocking moments, but this only serves to question the weak scripting in some of the later sequences. But whatever your squabbles, of which you may have many, Gebbe succeeds with what she set out to do—she’s made an upsetting film that will make you angry, make you cringe, and most importantly, for better or worse, make you remember her name.

Film: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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