The German title of Nothing Bad Can Happen is “Tore Dances,” something I knew from the beginning thanks to the multiple attempts I have made at learning German in my life. It’s one of the few things I remember, but I’m glad it’s something I knew from the outset, because while a name like “Nothing Bad Can Happen” is immediately off-putting, “Tore Dances” is not. No movie called Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen is going to end well. I mean, seriously. Right off the bat, you see that and you call bullshit. “Tore Dances,” on the other hand, leaves a bit more to the imagination. It’s also a bit less marketable (people are definitely more interested in seeing something bad happen than watching Tore dance), so I can understand why the change was made.
But let’s talk about why Tore dances.
Nothing Bad Can Happen (Tore Tanzt)
Director: Katrin Gebbe
Release Date: July 27, 2014
Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is an epileptic. At times (especially under stress), he collapses and writhes around on the floor. But what others may see as a dangerous, potentially life-threatening problem, he sees as a vital part of his faith. To him, these are religious experiences, times when the Holy Spirit becomes a part of him. And during his seizures, I couldn’t help but think back to the videos I have seen of the extremely religious Christian sects, speaking in tongues and shaking. I’m not going to sit back and diagnose entire religious groups with epilepsy, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to see, especially because of how little attention others paid to his plight.
Tore is a member of the “Jesus Freaks” (spoken in English) a hard rocking Christian sect that actually matters very little to the film. In fact, after the first third half hour or so, the group disappears entirely. But their establishment is important, because his interactions with that group set up who he is as a person and as a believer. In the opening moments of Nothing Bad Can Happen, Tore is brought to the water and dunked. Knowing only the title (not the German one) and that it was being marketed as a horror movie, I was expecting Tore to die. I thought that it would be some cult thing where true believers were drowned (or something like that) and this blonde kid was not the protagonist but a sacrificial lamb of sorts.
And that actually gets to a broader point about the odd marketing for the film. Nothing Bad Can Happen‘s poster features a bizarro version of the symbol for Anarchy (which is the symbol for the Jesus Freaks) covered in blood. On that poster is a quote from Fearnet, “A compelling and shocking thriller… reminiscent of Martyrs.” And those two things lead to very specific expectations, ones that the film never quite matches. (The German poster, on the other hand, features Tore and a blue sky, which is both more and less appropriate.) In reality, Nothing Bad Can Happen isn’t really horror or even a thriller so much as an extremely unsettling (and upsetting) drama. Sitting through it is an endurance test, because Tore’s faith drives him to the depths of hell.
Hell, in this case, takes the form of Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), a man who offers Tore a place to live after he leaves the Jesus Freaks. But he’s abusive, violent, and completely insane. At first, it’s all nice and wonderful (I mean, kind of; Benno is creepy from the outset), but quickly things take a turn and only get worse. Tore’s motivations for staying are never really clear, but the only thing that the film really seems to justify it with is Tore’s love for Benno’s not-daughter, Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof). Sanny is physically and sexually abused by Benno, and while Tore does absolutely nothing to protect her, he clearly has a desire to be by her side. Whether that desire seems like enough to keep him on Benno’s property is hard to say, and that lack of motivational clarity is one of the film’s biggest issues.
As horrific as her situation is, it makes sense that Sanny stays: she is afraid of what might happen to her if she ran away. Plus, her mother (Benno’s also-awful wife-or-something) is there, as is her younger brother. Those are legitimate reasons to suffer through a horrible situation. And even if you don’t really get it from the dialogue or characterization, it makes sense. Tore, on the other hand, needs to be justified. He’s clearly crazy, but there’s no attempt to really explore that aspect of his personality. There’s barely even an attempt to really explore his religious fervor, which is the other driving force.
But it may be that there is a third thing. Nothing Bad Can Happen has three chapters: Faith, Love, and then something else. That something else is even more ironic than the title, so I’ll let you find out for yourself… but maybe what seems initially like irony (I laughed when I saw it) is actually a symptom of a deranged mind. He is driven by faith while he is with the Jesus Freaks, by love when he is with Sanny, and then by that third thing when he does whatever it is he does at the end. Then again, maybe I’m trying to give the film credit where it isn’t due, because Tore just lacks depth. Giving a subtitle here and there doesn’t excuse the film from actually justifying a character’s decisions.
All that said, I’m being harder on the film than perhaps I should be. I don’t want to say I liked it, but it doesn’t even seem like a film that wants to be liked. But it wants to be respected and considered and discussed and felt. And I think it deserves all of those things. If nothing else, I definitely felt it. If you have any empathy at all, you’ll wince (and possibly even shield your eyes) at some of the more horrific abuses Benno commits. It’s powerful stuff, and it will stick with you long after the credits roll. For all of its failings, it undoubtedly succeeds there.