Nothing (originally called Intet) is a dark dissection of teenage behavior and the lengths they’re willing to go to prove a point — even if they are afforded little time to understand why they are reacting so irrationally and violently. Directed by Trine Piil Christensen, who also wrote the screenplay, and Seamus McNally, Nothing is an adaptation of the novel by Janne Teller. The film is filled with solid themes and intriguing character dynamics, especially as the seemingly regular 14-year-olds begin to spiral, heading down dark and violent paths. While the drama can be a tense watch, there is something missing in its execution to make it a riveting, suspenseful watch.
A group of 14-year-olds are asked to take a test to determine what career paths they will have. They’re confused at first because they don’t understand why they have to decide about their futures so soon. Pierre Anthon (Harald Kaiser Hermann) is the angriest out of his classmates, declaring to them and the teacher that nothing matters, and that this test proves they’re just cogs in the machine. His classmates bristle at the insinuation that nothing matters. How dare Pierre Anthon say such a thing? Led by Agnes (Vivelill Søgaard Holm), the students set out to prove him wrong by asking one another to do extreme things that will show Pierre Anthon they hold meaning. This includes digging up the grave of one student’s brother and sacrificing a finger. Suffice it to say, things get out of hand as the teens’ behavior grows more violent.
Nothing fashions itself after Lord of the Flies, though the teenagers here are never put in a situation where they ever leave the comfort of their own community. Rather, the film explores the discomfort they feel about the idea that nothing in their lives has any meaning. They’re so desperate to prove something to Pierre Anthon that they forget they, too, were angry and confused about being forced to make career decisions about their lives when they had so little opportunity to figure out anything about it or experience it to the fullest. That they would go to violent and abhorrent lengths to feel something at all suggests how empty they feel and how little control they have over their own lives.
That said, moments that are meant to shock the audience don’t have enough suspenseful momentum. Things just happen and, while there are a few gasp-worthy instances, the film doesn’t elevate them. It’s the main issue in a film that is meant to surprise. When its big, dramatic moments land without much fanfare, it makes the overall story weaker and less intense. The cast, for the most part, does a good job conveying the deterioration of their characters’ moral compasses. The longer they continue asking each other to give up that which they believe is meaningful to them, the more unhinged their performances get. However, the weak link is Vivelill Søgaard Holm’s performance could have been more nuanced and full of depth. When the main character offers little in the way of emotional depth, it’s hard to fully become invested in her plight, in particular. She’s leading the pack, but there could have been more time exploring her guilt, especially the lack of accountability taken by her character. The characters themselves have little to distinguish them and the film doesn’t get around to fully exploring their violent tendencies.
All told, Nothing is intriguing and dark, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. The film gets grimmer and more harrowing the longer the teens continue in their goal, but there is a disconnect between their actions and the underlying emotions that are tied to them. The suspense and intensity is also lacking, making the film’s slow-burn fizzle out sooner than expected. To be sure, Nothing is captivating in parts and disturbing in others. The themes at its center are worth thinking about, especially when it comes to feeling no control over one’s future and the anxiousness that comes with becoming a part of the system the closer to adulthood the teens get. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough urgency to the story or power behind its characters.
Nothing had its premiere at Fantastic Fest 2022 in September. The film is 87 minutes long and is not rated.