Faith is a powerful motivator. Provided it is guided and fueled with the right intent and passion it can affect all those around you. But people of faith might be so focused that they are easily manipulated and that, on the surface, is what Katrin Gebbe sets to show us with her debut feature. From the very first frame, even considering the title of the film, it’s an absolute certainty that this affair will end in misery but what makes the events depicted even more gruesome is that they actually happened. Gebbe’s film is based on true events and once you start this ride, well, a quote from Lena Headey in Zack Snyder’s 300 should suffice. “This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this.“
The film focuses on Tore (Julius Feldmeier), a homeless youth making his way from commune to commune before starting a new life with a religious group called The Jesus Freaks. He, by chance, meets a family and begins a friendship with the father Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak). But not long after moving in with them at the start of their summer vacation Tore is subjected to Benno’s increasing cruelty. Tore, a newly minted follower of Christ, still wet behind the ears from his life-changing baptism, retains his religious convictions even as the Benno’s increasing violent outbursts turn to outright torture. Not only is Tore physically weak but, in times of stress or anxiety, he’s prone to debilitating bouts of epilepsy. Turning the other cheek is the only weapon he has and unfortunately it only makes situations worse.
Katrin Gebbe’s film is “inspired by true events” and shows us the mistakes all parties made and that, in a manner of speaking, everyone involved ultimately is at fault for Tore’s death. It’s easy to critique the paths walked and decisions made in retrospect, but it should have been equally easy for Tore to walk away at the first sign that things weren’t peachy. After all, he had multiple chances, this isn’t Salo or An American Crime. But does a film that makes you feel bad have anything good to offer, or a message to take away from it? Perhaps it’s simply to teach us to keep our guard up.
Drafthouse Films continues expanding their catalog with films that few companies will have the balls to distribute. No news there, but is this an exercise in the tolerance of its audience? Hard to say as Nothing Bad Can Happen is not excess for the sake of it. There is a point, even though it is very tough to swallow, but one must constantly ask what can be derived from a film that makes the audience feel bad? This is not a horror film, yet like many other films out there it shows that monsters are everywhere. Beyond that, the only valid lesson, well two, is to never put faith or trust wholly and unquestionably into anything or anyone, and that awareness of a problem is the first step in fixing it, and better, saving your own life.
Nothing Bad Can Happen, a film that from the curious title (similar to say Happiness, and It’s Fine! Everything Is Fine!) hints that the narrative is quite the contrary – then again the poster should also start alarm bells ringing. When things inevitably do go bad, quite bad in fact, we see how one person’s faith can keep them from physical salvation because they believe more in spiritual salvation. Well, that or Tore is just not very bright. Still he’s so consumed by the commitment to an idea, and in a way he’s not standing up to Benno for himself, it’s more to protect Benno’s step-daughter from his curiously sadistic tendencies.
From a psychological point of view, it is an interesting story about someone so lost they’ll take up with whatever cause or people just for a false sense of belonging. But again, those with such willingness (and those weak in mind and body) can easily become taken over, abused, or worse. A film like this makes you want to reach through the screen and shake or slap some sense into the characters, not just the innocent ones. In the end, and every step of the way actually, Tore is the victim of his environment and his own bad decisions. Again, you can’t fault him too much because it is his belief that persistence will win over those who assault him. His unwavering resolve, as strange as it sounds, is a result of him believing that he was doing what Jesus would do. His passiveness was the most steadfast expression of his faith but it was ultimately his undoing.
Tore’s eyes tell a whole story in themselves. He has a hopeful and optimistic view of things because he believes God is on his side. But his reluctance to get away from both the frying pan and the fire is just pathetic. It’s tough to feel for someone who we see, metaphorically, helps someone load the gun he will soon point at his own foot. It’s not easy to start a film like this and then actively sit and witness man’s inhumanity to man but really it is the psychological reverberations that can be more affecting than the visuals. It’s in that respect the film, as weird as it is to say, succeeds but the trip is not for the weak of heart. Still, maybe that’s also the point. Most of us know fire is hot, and violence is wrong, but sometimes a wake up call is needed to really get people’s attention before it’s too late.