From Female Filmmakers

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN’s Religious Parable

Nothing Bad Can Happen. 2014. Directed & Written by Katrin Gebbe.
Starring Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, and Annika Kuhl. Celluloid Dreams.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

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While I usually try not to go too deep into personal theories of a movie, if it appears to me as metaphorical, Nothing Bad Can Happen feels very much to me like a film meant to be taken as metaphor, and with that, I feel like this review will mostly focus on my subjective interpretation.

The film follows a young man named Tore (Julius Feldmeier) in Hamburg who attempts to build a new life in a religious group, The Jesus Freaks. After having a seizure during a rock band’s performance, a man named Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) helps him out, and brings him to safety at his home. There, he begins a relationship with Benno and his family. Eventually Tore even moves into a small guest area at Benno’s home. However, things soon become darker, more sinister for Tore than he could have ever anticipated. A battle of wits begin, as Benno begins to mentally and physically torture Tore. Though the young man clings to his faith, Benno becomes more sadistic as time goes by, ultimately inflicting some of worst punishment possible on Tore.
Toretanzt_JuliusFeldmeier_SwantjeKohlhof_TORE_SANNYThis is apparently based on a news article director/writer Katrin Gebbe read. While I have not searched out the article in question, I still believe Gebbe uses the, at times brutal, story as a way to discuss religion. In particular, she looks at how those who are constantly, and consistently, abused over and over by their religious institutions still keep their faith – often going so far as to excuse the abuse. Furthermore, the actions of Benno as the movie progresses make you realize he was initially trolling for weaker prey when first meeting Tore – once he saw the younger man seizure, he knew this was his victim. Also, you can obviously realize after some time Benno is not Christian any sense whatsoever – much how I feel about those who abuse their power to rape and abuse those without it using their religious position to conceal their actions (those people do not truly believe in anything – religion or otherwise).
23_Toretanzt_0026652_ASTRID-AnnikaKuhl_TORE_JuliusFeldmeier_BENNO_SaschaGersakThis method Benno uses is exactly how the abusers, using religion as their cover, choose which person to subject to their torturous desires. Much like the rapists using the Roman Catholic Church to cover up their heinous sexual assaults on countless, seemingly never ending boys and girls. And still, the abuse reigns on as people continue to bow at the altar of these corrupt churches. Without ruining the ending, there is very little optimism in the finale of Nothing Bad Can Happen – there is a half and half, bittersweet sort of finish. One side speaks to us so that we can learn from all these abuses, and hopefully some who face this abuse also can get away eventually. On the other side, we see how faith can get someone through terrible, horrifying trauma, and yet at the same time could really destroy one’s self altogether. As much as Gebbe based this on supposed true events, I really do believe this is meant to be a metaphor of the larger-scale abuse going on throughout many religions – not simply the Catholics, as I mentioned (I was personally brought up Roman Catholic due to my mom and I living with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life & when finally given the chance by my mother and father a few years later I gave up church for the rest of my life). Every religion has, and is capable of, abuses, and this almost says to me alone that religion is not as wonderful and miraculous as those who practice their individual religions regularly would have you believe. Nothing Bad Can Happen explores all these things, and more, through a very dramatic film while also incorporating real savage moments of psychological horror.
14_Toretanzt_IMG_9721_TORE_JuliusFeldmeierThe absolute best part of the film is its central performance. Julius Feldmeier plays Tore brilliantly. The whole film is quite subdued and what I call “quiet” – there isn’t any action, it’s all based around the drama of the script.  In these “quiet” films (I’m not generalizing – just stating for the purpose of this review), I find actors often get to really get into the scenes more, in terms of character. Sure, action stars can really get into their own characters, but in films like Nothing Bad Can Happen where the plot does involve or incorporate any big set pieces, special effects, or other things et cetera et cetera, actors have nothing else except for the dramatics of their character and the scenes to focus on. All of the subject matter here is very heavy, and Feldmeier gives a great performance as a young man who is determined to find his way through life, and everything that comes with it, through his belief in Jesus Christ. As somebody who does not take part in organized religion, an actor has to do some serious work for me to empathize with a character who is almost blinded by his faith. Regardless, Feldmeier does such a good job as Tore it was impossible not to feel for his character. With every degrading act Benno unleashes on Torre, both the determination and pain coming through in Feldmeier’s performance tightened the tension of the film, as well extended my empathy tenfold for the character. Really great stuff. I believe this is the first feature film Feldmeier has been a part of, and I do hope to see him again soon after this one.
303541.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNothing Bad Can Happen didn’t reach Canada until 2014. Because of this, it is absolutely one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing this past year. I’ve included it on Fathersonholygore’s Best of 2014 List. There’s something about this film which captivates me, and I believe most of that is due to the fact Katrin Gebbe gives us a dose of reality while also spinning the story into a much larger fabric representing the universal abuse of the weak, and possibly gullible, followers by their own religious institutions.
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400The film itself is a real great work of drama with thriller elements, and a healthy dose of horror, to my mind anyways. This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. I can’t wait to get a copy on Blu ray because there are no doubt bits and pieces I missed when I first had the privilege of seeing the film. Highly recommended. Keep an open mind – an inquisitive, free mind – and think about the bigger implications of Nothing Bad Can Happen. A real powerful work from Katrin Gebbe – someone who I again hope to see more from in the near future.

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Mr. Babadook & the Horror of Single Parenthood

The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
93 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★★

This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The ExorcistSorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadookit will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.593500.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.

Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.

579632.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxThe plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.

I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
xAnhFfFFXzWfDLd3um3ufTgGTqwOr maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.

One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be.  Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.

Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:

– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for SnowtownDead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
xmister-babadook-cauchemars-denfance-retour-L-AX1jhX.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.trSDdhaTQmpaBv0qiDZhOverall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.

The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.

Claire Denis Proves They’re All Bastards

Les Salauds (English title: Bastards). 2013. Dir. Claire Denis. Screenplay by Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. Wild Bunch.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2

les_salauds_xlgMarco (Lindon) is a sailor. A well-known one at that. He’s long cut off any ties with his family. After his brother-in-law commits suicide, Marco’s sister asks him to come help take care of the man who is responsible- a man named Edouard Laporte (who looks creepily like the last pope, the scary German one). So Marco gets an apartment in the city to start investigating things himself. Soon, he begins having a sexual relationship with Laporte’s wife (Mastroianni). Not long after this the real doozy events start piling up.

First is the shocking revelation Marco discovers from his niece’s doctor: her vagina is so badly damaged they need to do reconstructive surgery on it in the near future to have any chance at repairing it. I hesitate to say anything further. Shortly after, Marco thinks he has the truth. Unfortunately for him, and his niece, things are not at all what they seem. For those who’ve experienced the work of Claire Denis before now, Bastards pretty much sits right on par with her most disturbing, unnerving work. Though Trouble Every Day is my favourite film of hers personally, this one comes into the top few numbers.
Denis focuses many of her films around violence, however, it’s not often she indulges the imagery in full force. Much of the imagery she chooses to use, while disturbing, is usually subtle, subdued. Denis understands the less is sometimes more. Certainly, when dealing with rape, and particularly here in Bastards a really vile sort (if you can imagine categorizing such a thing by its level of heinousness), it’s easier to let the audience conjure up their own, often more personal, images of these things. That eats at the core of an audience more than anything, even if they don’t realize it themselves. Denis does this in Bastards.
les-salauds-07-08-2013-6-g In particular, one specific image dominates the entire film. It happens just before the 45-minute mark, as Marco is shown around what looks to be an apparent backwoods porn studio of sorts, which caters to people who like to ‘do their own thing’. First, we’re treated to some horribly candid shots – cumshots. Denis lingers on Marco as he eyes the filth in thie place. Then, on the floor, Marco sees something. Something which I, on the first viewing, had to rewind just to see. I couldn’t believe it. I knew, knowing Denis and her work, this would probably end up being disturbing, or shocking in some sort of way. But I was definitely surprised, and sufficiently disturbed, once I saw what Marco saw himself. I won’t reveal it – let’s just say, he leaves with more knowledge and more anger than when he’d walked in there. Also, it calls to mind the novel Sanctuary by William Faulkner.
There’s another moment when Marco’s niece runs away from the hospital that really gets me. It isn’t graphic so much as it’s there, present, in your face, while Denis shows it to us in shadowy darkness, as if to say “imagine what else you can’t see right now”. We get glimpses of the niece and her vicious injuries, but only in tiny snapshots, barely enough to really register. Maybe that’s a good thing. The story is not for everyone. It’s not graphic visually, but once you put the pieces together behind the plot you really bite your fist a bit. And not in a good way. It will make you cringe. I feel I’m desensitized, mainly that’s as far as horror imagery goes. When it comes to subject matter there are still things which really bother me. For instance, rape, and even worse the rape of a minor. There are tough bits in here. Then of course the finale really blows your top off. And not in a good way.
Bastards 1 The final shot is beautiful, dark, disturbing, and Denis sets it to a Tindersticks cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Put Your Love In Me” – this will haunt me to the end of my days. The song itself is haunting, but coupled with the images Denis shows while it plays, just long enough before the credits eventually cut in to roll, this is absolutely crushing. It is amazing. Yet a terribly powerful moment that really had an effect on me. The way it’s shot, the music, what’s actually happening in the scene – remarkable. Possibly my favourite part, although highly unsettling, in the entire film. Denis is a master of her craft.

If you’re not into disturbing subject matter, if you can’t enjoy a plot laden with both sex and some graphic themes centered on sexual violence, then I suggest you take a pass on Denis’ Bastards. This is a challenging film. There are even bits you might feel a little conflicted towards. Marco’s relationship with Laporte’s wife gets into some very deep and murky territory at points. The ending of the film got to me, I must say. For me, the film was wonderful.
I dig the way Denis approaches tough subject matter. I also admire her talent as a director. There are very beautiful shots here amongst all of the misery in Bastards. It isn’t all a pit of despair. Not only that, but Denis always manages to find a good performance. From the likes of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo to her regular work with Alex Descas (here as the doctor to Marco’s niece), there is always great work in her films. Here, Vincent Lindon really does a phenomenal job as the male lead. He is a bit mysterious, even dangerous. He’s got a bit of dirty side to him. Nowhere near as dirty as the people he investigates during his own little trip into the underworld, in search of whoever it was that hurt his niece. His performance really carries a film that could easily be dragged down by its intense and disturbing subject matter.
1173177_Bastards_directed_by_Claire_DenisAll in all I have to give this film a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a fantastic, yet grim, work by Claire Denis. She continues to make challenging films. Most of her work is not easy, and maybe not totally accessible. But when you sit through one of them and really absorb things, they get under your skin. Denis has caused many nights of wondering for me, particularly with her film Trouble Every Day, as I mentioned earlier being my favourite work of hers. Bastards is almost neck and neck with that one. Hard to choose between. Very different, but also both very amazing pieces of work. The only reason I don’t give Bastards a full 5 star rating is because I wish there was a little more SOMETHING to it. I’m not sure what that something is, but I just know there’s a tiny little bit of something, whatever it may be, missing from this film. Not that it detracts from the rest of it. I was just left wanting more at the end. Not in a way that excited me, but a small disappointment, as if I’d been waiting for one other thing to leap out at me. Regardless of that, I think Bastards is well worth watching. Not only is it challenging, it’s just a well-written and well-acted film. Denis’ films are all visually interesting, no matter what their subject. This is no exception to that rule. If you’re ready for something fairly dark and stormy some night, pick up a copy of Bastards, and you won’t regret it even if the story is tough to chew at times.

But one thing’s for certain – don’t count on the ending to cheer you up and band-aid those emotional cuts and bruises. It’ll only beat you up some more.