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Nothing Bad Can Happen is one of the more frustrating films I've watched in some time. It has an intriguing premise, seemingly ripe for tension and thematic exploration, but the end result feels bafflingly misguided and empty. Things start off well enough. The film opens with the baptism of a young man named Tore. We know nothing of his past. The only Tore we know for the runtime of this film is this new man. We watch as he happily partakes in this rite of passage while a gutteral, pounding score implies dreadful things to come. We learn that he has nobody except his group of friends in the Jesus Freaks movement; a group of devout gothic types who try to practice living life as Jesus would. It is immediately apparent that religion is everything to Tore, and despite his depressing dependency you can't help but like him for his goofy smile and unwavering good nature. One day while out with a friend, they run into a man named Benno and his family who are having vehicle trouble. Tore says a prayer on the hood of Benno's car, and miraculously it starts again. Intrigued, Benno visits a Jesus Freak get together. If Tore isn't sympathetic enough, he also suffers from epilepsy and is highly prone to seizures. At this meeting he suffers one, and Benno comes ot his rescue bringing Tore to his home to care for him. Over time, Tore is welcomed as part of the family and stays with Benno's family.

 Nothing Bad Can Happen
Gradually, we learn that Benno's interest in Tore's faith is unhealthy. Benno begins to physically and mentally abuse Tore. Benno is filled with jealousy when Tore gets along with his estranged stepdaughter Sanny, who he also abuses in horrific ways. He finds excuses to beat Tore and take advantage of his kindness, yet Tore stays. Out of spiritual conviction that God is testing him, and perhaps out of some devotion to Sanny, he continues to endure it. This first half of the film seems promising. The characters and their relationships are interesting. Everything feels carefully paced and expertly measured. Then it all starts to fall apart as the abuse kicks up a notch throughout the second half.

Cinema has offered us some great stories about faith being tested. The recent Calvary and A Serious Man are two excellent but wildly different recent examples. The Last Temptation of Christ also comes to mind. But then we also have misguided efforts like The Passion of the Christ, and I'm sad to say that in the second half, this movie falls into this category. It is a lot of ugliness to endure for very little thematic nourishment. I enjoy a lot of horror movies that throw morality out the window. I can sometimes enjoy when a flick is gruesome just for the sake of it. But Nothing Bad Can Happen walks and talks like an arthouse film with purpose in its veins. It even tells its story in three chapters, so you know its serious. But it comes up disappointingly empty on something to say. There's no commentary or criticism on Tore's faith, or even the basic conflict of good versus evil. Even a moment of doubt or guilt from Benno would have been interesting, but the guy is just plain evil. We as the viewer are just here to witness a series of punishing acts.

 Nothing Bad Can Happen
At times it feels as though director Katrin Gebbe is trying her hand at making an edgy Michael Haneke or Lars von Trier movie, but she lacks the nuance and storytelling craft to make it work. This becomes especially apparent in the films final act when some of the peripheral characters decide to partake in the ugliness being put upon Tore. The abuse quickly escalates in unbelievable ways that feel dishonest and only there for the shock value. It's ugly and it's wrong-headed, and left me with feelings of unease toward the filmmaker's intentions instead of what was happening to Tore.

I will say that despite its troubling missteps, it is a very well made film from a production standpoint. The cast is flawless. I couldn't dream up a better actor for the role of Tore than Julius Feldmeier. When the story had me shaking my head he still completely sold me on the character. Sascha Alexander Gersak and Swantje Kohlhof also deserve major credit as Benno and Sanny. Gebbe also shows a lot of promise as a first time feature film director. The movie looks great, and I certainly felt tense and uncomfortable when I was supposed to. We could use more awesome female directors and I think she has the chops. It is just disappointing that this apparent talent wasn't used in service of a better film.

 Nothing Bad Can Happen


Nothing Bad Can Happen was shot digitally on the Red One MX camera system (according to IMdB) and makes the transition to the Blu-ray quite nicely. While I have some serious problems with the film's priorities, it certainly is shot well. Director Katrin Gebbe and cinematographer Moritz Schultheiß create a look that is both appealing in its natural beauty but always gloomy in appearance. It reminded me a lot of the look Lars von Trier went for in Antichrist and parts of Melancholia. The look works for it and conveys the desired tone well, while still looking good. Artefacts were never a noticeable issue. Even in the dimly lit basement setting where the Jesus Freaks meet up, the black levels look consistent and accurate. A lesser transfer would be plagued with banding in this setting.


The back of the box erroneously lists that this Blu-ray has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but it doesn't. The only track on the disc is thankfully a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that isn't on the box at all. The sound design in Nothing Bad Can Happen doesn't waste any time trying to get under your skin. In the opening baptism scene the soundtrack is loud and rattling with sickening low vibrations that would feel at home in a Gaspar Noé picture. It really sets the tone for the unease to come. Shortly after there is a mosh pit scene at a Jesus Freaks get together that is full of noice bouncing around the sound mix, but it mostly lets up from that point forward. Outside of the soundtrack things are mostly kept to the front and center of the mix, but there's a great deal of consistent ambient noise in the surround channels as well. Sometimes just a light breeze or the hum of a car nearby subtly adds to the immersion in a really effective way.

 Nothing Bad Can Happen


The Making of Nothing Bad Can Happen: An Interview with Katrin Gebbe (HD, 11:37) is exactly what it sounds like. Gebbe talks about what inspired her to make the film. She also talks about how she decided on her approach to the story, and how the actors all got involved. It's a straightforward but informative feature. Next up is Tore Tanzt: An Interview with Julius Feldmeier, Katrin Gebbe and Verena Gräfe-Höft (HD, 12:06). This is more of the same but with interviews from the actor who plays Tore and a producer of the film. Last of all there are Theatrical Trailers for the other Drafthouse Films titles The Act of Killing, Borgman, Pieta and Wake in Fright.

 Nothing Bad Can Happen


I really hoped I would find more to like about Nothing Bad Can Happen. First time feature film director Katrin Gebbe is clearly talented and has a wonderful cast here, but the message of the movie is muddled and dubious. The first half of the film shows great promise and a knack for carefully controlled tension, but it quickly devolves into a series of cruelties being put upon the main character then has nothing to say for it. Good news is that if you are a fan, the AV quality of this release is excellent. Sadly there isn't much in the way of special features aside from some short interviews.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.