Faith is a funny thing. Anyone can have it. You don't have to be smart. You can be utterly brilliant. Mature. Immature. It really doesn't matter. The point is that if you have it, it's yours. It literally belongs to you, to do with as you please.
Katrin Gebbe has made Nothing Bad Can Happen, a movie about a certain kind of faith, the kind that is powerful to carry someone through difficulty, self sacrifice, loneliness. Whether the character whose faith is in question is wise or unwise, is up to viewers to decide. The character's faith is not. Or rather, the character's faith is absolute.
Tore is a young man, an epileptic, whose presumably broken past has led him to a small group that calls themselves the Jesus Freaks. It's a ragtag bunch of punkers who share their simple faith on the road and one such encounter has Tore praying over a stranger's car in a parking lot. Sure enough the car starts on miraculous cue and when the the young man finds himself disillusioned by his friend's lack of faith and disabled by a fit he is rescued by this same stranger, taken into his home and made to feel part of the family.
But this is a disturbing answer to prayer. Tore soon becomes aware that not only does his new adopted family not share his faith but are determined to test his in increasingly ugly and abusive ways. His burgeoning crush on the teenage daughter Sanny is not only complicated by his desire to remain celibate but by his certainty that she is being sexually abused by Benno. A showdown is inevitable and it is one in which Tore has only the weapon of his faith to guide towards the film's tragic conclusion.
This is powerfully haunting stuff. As pointed out in the Fantastic Fest program, Gebbe has put us in the position to be witnesses and she rarely puts her camera away from what needs witnessing. One scene had me letting out a small retch, but never did I once feel that the violence in the film did anything but advance the plot.
If you see this film you may talk about the gorgeous look Gebbe and her team achieve for the film which takes place in otherwise tawdry settings. You will certainly discuss the perfect casting, and especially the ethereal performance of Julius Feldmeier as Tore. But hopefully you'll also find time to discuss if only with yourself the powerful nature of faith, the intense self sacrifice it can inspire, and the good that comes of taking it seriously for oneself rather than as something to expect of others. Gebbe has made a primer on the nature of a subject that confounds humanity and never once does mean to imply that Tore's faith makes him perfect or even particularly wise. Just that even the humblest, weakest of people can leave the world all the better for having been agents of love and forgiveness.
This film seems to say: watch the world with that someone, through the eyes of faith and it will lead to a life that makes a difference in the world, a life that will be witnessed by those who need to act. Surely if we do that then nothing bad can happen.
Review originally published during Fantastic Fest in September 2013. Nothing Bad Can Happen opens in select theaters in the U.S. on Friday, June 27, via Drafthouse Films. Visit the official site for more information.