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Nothing Bad Can Happen  (2014)
3 Stars
Directed by Katrin Gebbe.
Cast: Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Annika Kuhl, Swantje Kohlhof, Til Theinert, Daniel Michel, Nadine Boske, Christian Bergmann, Uwe Dag Berlin.
2014 – 106 minutes
Not Rated: (equivalent of an R for strong brutal violence, sexual content and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 24, 2014.
Released in its native Germany as "Tore tanzt" ("Tore Dances"), "Nothing Bad Can Happen" is one of the most enraging films to come around in some time. It is deftly made by first-time feature filmmaker Katrin Gebbe, drawing the viewer into its curious, lonely world one scene at a time, but where it leads its vulnerable puppy-dog of a protagonist is so deliberately unpleasant and maddening that one cannot help but want to scream directions at the screen. Using a real-life story she stumbled upon on the Internet as the initial jumping-off point, Gebbe has fashioned a brutal portrait of modern-day religious persecution while touching upon the universal search for faith and meaning in a conscious world offering no concrete answers. The picture is provocatively unbiased, not about validating or ridiculing a person's belief system as much as it is about the right itself to believe.

Tore (Julius Feldmeier) doesn't appear to have any blood relations he is in touch with, but he does have the Jesus Freaks, a fundamentalist Christian group of which he's a proud and devoted member. No older than 18 or 19, he seems to be floundering around without much direction, living only for the God he trusts is looking down on him. When an epileptic seizure strikes during a Christian metal concert, Tore is saved from harm by Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), a family man living in an allotment for the summer. Welcomed into Benno's home, Tore meets wife Astrid (Annika Kuhl), befriends 15-year-old daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof), and is offered a temporary place to sleep in a backyard tent. The longer he stays with this family, however, the more he is embroiled in their rotting dysfunction. As the outsider looking in, he becomes Benno's—and eventually Astrid's—central target for the kind of abuse that would be unthinkable to most. Tore, however, sees it as a test from God, one that he must not fight but endure.

Whether there is or isn't a higher power, it is no match for the evil which man is capable. This is the central conceit running through "Nothing Bad Can Happen," a film of very real, uncompromisingly savage horrors. It would normally be expected that an average hero or heroine would be smart enough to try to escape acts of violence and torture enacted upon him or her, but Tore is a different breed, socially naïve and inexperienced yet steadfast in what he believes. He doesn't have anybody else once the Hamburg chapter of Jesus Freaks leaves for Berlin, and comes to worry about Sanny's welfare after discovering that she is being molested by her dad. When the young girl questions him about his faith, he replies, "If I didn't believe, I'd have nothing."

Tumbling down, down, down into a shameful void of inevitability, the ironically titled "Nothing Bad Can Happen" neither exploits nor turns away from the atrocities it depicts. Ultimately turned into a victim but refusing to waver from his religious convictions, Tore is rendered a selfless martyr not unlike the figure he most closely idolizes. It is an on-the-nose notion, but one that writer-director Katrin Gebbe arrives at with tough, ruthless penetrability. Performed by its brave cast with the unaffectedness of documentary subjects—Swantje Kohlhof is especially shattering as the physically violated, emotionally trapped Sanny—"Nothing Bad Can Happen" is frustrating and subjectively repulsive, but far from apathetic to its lead character. Gebbe mourns his fate along with her audience, the loaded implications of her narrative trajectory not easily shaken.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman