Cannes Review: 'Nothing Bad Can Happen'

Be careful who you pray for. That's a potential takeaway from “Nothing Bad Can Happen,” the first feature from German film director Katrin Gebbe. This bleak and somewhat sadistic picture is the type of movie that unfolds like a slow car wreck. You know something bad is going to happen, you just aren't sure what, or how, and when it eventually happens it is repulsive and yet you still can't turn away. Upon reflection, however, there are moments of beauty, making the whole enterprise a tad difficult to wrap your head around.

We open with young Tore (Julius Feldmeier) emerging from the water. This extremely skinny (and somewhat “simple”-looking) kid is a newly baptized member of a self-proclaimed group of Jesus Freaks. They are rowdy and tattooed and hang around in public spaces behaving like any other normal group of kids until something calls to them. In Tore's case, it's a minivan with a troubled engine. He lays hands upon it, prays and, glory be to God, it's running again. The skeptic behind the wheel, Benno (Sascha Gersak), is grateful for the help, but hesitant to agree it was the work of the Lord. When Tore invites him to a Jesus Freaks gathering, it seems like it's the last we'll see of him, but this isn't the case.

Benno shows up at the prayer meeting/thrash-rock concert just in time to catch Tore have an epileptic seizure. While Tore seems convinced it is the Holy Ghost making himself acquainted, he still takes up Benno's offer to crash at his pad. Soon we meet his wife and two kids – a sullen teenage girl and a moppety son.

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Something about the family, however, seems a bit. . .off. You notice it immediately in the glances from the plain looking wife (Astrid, played by Annika Kuhl) and freshly nubile daughter (Sanny, played by Swantje Kohlhof.) There are snipey comments directed toward Benno. (Their home and its ragged garden is at least partially government-assisted.) After a trip to an amusement park and some awkward birthday gift-giving, we learn that Benno is not the kids' biological father, but Mom's new boyfriend.

Benno has a pretty short fuse and after an angry confrontation Tore heads back to his group house. When he discovers that his roommate takes the rules of chastity none too seriously he's back on the streets again. His personal faith is unbroken, but he has nowhere to turn but back to Benno and his family.

There are some story beats that are more or less predictable – Tore and Sanny grow close (their scene of intimacy is the best in the entire film) and then Tore uncovers some dark secrets about Benno.

I take back what I just said. The best scene in the movie – and the one people will talk about when this is more widely seen – involves Benno, Astrid, Tore and a plateful of force-fed rotten chicken. As saintly Tore stays with the family longer, the cruelty of the adults increases, and it isn't just Benno that gets involved. Whereas the beginning of the film is elliptical with the transgressions, the end goes all-in for revulsion.

“Nothing Bad Can Happen” is divided into three chapters: Faith, Love and Hope. (Amusing, as Ulrich Seidl's “Paradise” trilogy has the same titles as well, just in a different order.) As Tore makes his way toward his inevitable Redeemer role, we realize he can only do it by renouncing a part of his faith. Not the part that wouldn't turn the other cheek, but the part that is convinced he is in communion with the divine. The moment he admits to doctors he is an epileptic reminded me a great deal of Hillary Swank's confession of having a sexual identity crisis in “Boys Don't Cry.”

“Nothing Bad Can Happen” is not action packed. It is even something of a “rough sit,” as the lingo goes. It does, however, seep in. Snatches of scenes played out it my mind days after the film ended, and while I may not be entirely certain I enjoyed the film, I get what the filmmaker was going for. There's some good, tonal stuff going on here and Katrin Gebbe is definitely one to keep an eye on.

SCORE: 7.0 / 10