Stuart Gordon is a writer/director/producer of film, television and theater. He is best known for the cult classic Re-Animator and for murdering his wife Carolyn in his films whenever possible.
Nothing Bad Can Happen is a German film that couldn’t have been made a few years ago. Although the Germans have no problem with sex scenes in their films or on television (you can watch T&A commercials during Sesame Street), violence is a completely different story. Until recently, most slasher, splatter and “torture porn” (a term I personally despise) movies were strictly verboten. Unfortunately for me, this included most of my own films. I couldn’t believe that I was somehow too violent for the Germans.
All of this changed when my friend Jörg Buttgereit, a talented filmmaker best known for Nekromantik (a movie whose title says it all) took the censors to task after they banned its sequel, Nekromantic 2: Return of the Loving Dead. Jörg was able to turn things around by showing the judge a review by a well-known German critic who labeled his films “works of art.” This opened the floodgates: If the Nekromantik movies were art, then so was every other horror film ever made, including Re-Animator. God bless Jörg Buttgereit!
Nothing Bad Can Happen is based on a true story and is the first feature written and directed by Katrin Gebbe. It tells the story of Tore, a young Jesus freak living in Hamburg. With blonde curls and an angelic face, Tore, well played by Julius Feldmeier, helps Benno (the extraordinary Sascha Alexander Gersak,) start his stalled car using the power of prayer in place of jumper cables. This miracle so impresses Benno that he invites Tore home with him, and discovering that the boy is homeless, allows him to stay in a tent on his property.
Benno’s family doesn’t know what to make of this innocent newcomer, particularly his teenaged daughter, Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof), but she thinks the young man is kinda cute. But like Ben Franklin’s famous saying that house guests are like fish, the longer they stay, the more they stink, Benno and his wife are soon resenting the boy, and he is subjected to a series of attacks that begin as an unexpected punch in the face and quickly escalate into sexual abuse, beatings, and ultimately torture.
I found myself reminded of a similar story, Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. Although I must admit that I have never read the book, I am a big fan of the 1962 film directed by and starring Peter Ustinov. Set on a British man-of–war during the Napoleonic Wars, the story focuses on Billy, a similarly angelic young man, played by a very beautiful Terence Stamp (also with blonde curly hair), who is victimized by Claggart, a nasty Master-at-Arms who may or may not secretly be in love with him. Wrongly accused of plotting mutiny, the young man is unable to defend himself as he is the victim of a malady that causes him to stutter when under pressure. In Nothing Bad, Tore has a similar condition which causes him to have seizures when stressed. Both stories escalate into grim tales of punishment and murder.
The main difference between Billy Budd and Nothing Bad Can Happen is that Billy, being on a ship in the middle of the sea, has no way of escaping. So I kept wondering why Tore didn’t just get the hell out of there. In fact, at one point he is taken to a nearby hospital (where the nurses inexplicably still wear old-fashioned nurse hats) by Sanny to be treated for his injuries and as soon as he’s healed, he immediately returns to the family for more punishment. This makes it a bit hard to sympathize with the stupid little fuck.
But maybe this is Tore having a come-to-Jesus moment. After all, Christ didn’t run away from his punishment when he had the chance. But does that make Tore a holy man or a masochist? Shouldn’t the protagonist learn something and be changed by the events of the story? Maybe Tore is not the protagonist, but if he’s not, who is?
Benno, like Billy Budd’s Claggart, is filled with self-loathing and seems to be attempting to destroy the decency and goodness in this young man, who is too saintly to be a part of our dirty sinful world and whose very goodness is a personal affront to him. For some reason, I found myself empathizing more with Benno. Is he, in fact, the protagonist? Have the events of the story caused him to change? And has he learned anything at the conclusion? See the film and let me know what you think.
And what’s the meaning of the title, Nothing Bad Can Happen? It clearly isn’t true as a ton of bad shit is raining down on poor Tore, but it does project the unbridled optimism of the young Jesus freak. The original title of the film is Tore Tanzt, which I believe means “Tore Dances.” Not much help there.
The fact that I find myself asking all these questions about the film the day after seeing it makes me realize that it definitely hit a nerve (or three) and I appreciate the skill that went into its creation: good writing, fine directing and excellent performances. Katrin Gebbe has established herself as a director to keep an eye on.
Just don’t turn your back on her.