There is provocation, there is exploitation, and then there is Nothing Bad Can Happen, a film so comprehensively miscalculated in its desire to be a batshit think piece that it potentially creates a new category of offense for its multitudinous levels of dastardly nihilism masquerading as a socio-philosophical horror show. Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is a newly inducted member of the “Jesus Freaks,” a group of straight-edge teens in Hamburg attempting to correct what other denominations have gotten wrong by “living the way He did.” After having a seizure at a concert, Tore is taken in by Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), who, along with his wife and kids, find Tore’s beliefs fascinating, while remaining heavily skeptical. Benno becomes increasingly aggressive, demented, and violent toward Tore, eventually forcing him into an extended session of torture, both psychological and physical, as a test to his supposedly unwavering faith.
These narrative elements could be the makings of a contemplative horror film and, for the first 20 minutes or so, writer-director Katrin Gebbe’s slow-burn pacing and sonically oriented aesthetics suggest intelligence may loom within later portions of the film. However, it’s soon apparent that Gebbe’s interests are less in exploring how youthful desire for transcendence is exploited by bourgeois underpinnings, than concocting a sadistic, elaborate setup within which to place her borderline mentally handicapped protagonist, soon to be humiliated, bruised, beaten, tortured, and raped at the mercy of Benno, whose inexplicable turn from curious interlocutor to merciless grim reaper reeks of genre-tinged fecklessness.
In fact, Nothing Bad Can Happen becomes so riddled with jaw-droppingly cruel and gleefully nasty scenes that, by the time Benno drowns a cat, watches Tore have a seizure, and then labels him a “retard” while walking away, it’s difficult not to wonder about Gebbe’s complicity with the gestating absurdity and whether this material is, truly, meant to be taken seriously. These concerns only manifest further in the film’s second half, which transforms Tore from a punching bag into a full-blown piñata of pain, through a series of sequences so pathetically, transparently mean-spirited and self-serious that any suspicions of Gebbe’s ceaselessly grave intentions are immediately dispelled. Were the scenes alone not telling enough, Gebbe divides the film into three chapters labeled “faith,” “love,” and “hope,” a sophomorically daft choice that heedlessly apes Lars von Trier’s preference for chapter titles and gruesome, ascetic tendencies.
Nothing Bad Can Happen would be virulent were it not a base product of film-school ignominy, with “provocation” being the valorized dispositif, no matter how flawed or asinine the conceit. Yet what’s most damnable about Gebbe’s feigned conviction is how deliberately she seeks a built-in defense for the film’s not one, but two inexcusable rape scenes, the latter of which makes the risible gay sex scene in Steve McQueen’s Shame look positively Bressonian by comparison. After kidnapping and forcing Tore into a gay club to be brutally and repeatedly raped, Benno asks on the ride “home”: “Have fun with the boys? Oh yeah, Christians don’t like homos.” Neglecting the implications of an underground gay club replete with leering transvestites and grunting rapists is actually the least of Gebbe’s problems. By attempting to posit the scene as a necessary evocation of Benno’s seemingly endless capacity for torturous endowment, Gebbe engages a rhetorical gesture equal to Benno’s: a pseudo-Socratic method of critical inquiry, masking larger, psychopathic tendencies. Thus, Gebbe’s subterfuge amounts to prizing art-house guttersnipe moves at all costs, no matter the ramifications.