The Movie Waffler New Release Review [VOD] - SYSTEM CRASHER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [VOD] - SYSTEM CRASHER

system crasher review
A troubled nine-year-old girl finds herself trapped in Germany's child welfare system.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nora Fingscheidt

Starring: Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Lisa Hagmeister, Melanie Straub, Victoria Trauttmansdorff

system crasher poster

Not since Kong landed in New York and Godzilla stomped Tokyo has the screen seen so much damage wrought by a force of nature as that caused by Benni (Helena Zengel), the protagonist/antagonist of writer/director Nora Fingscheidt's German box office hit System Crasher. Benni isn't 10 storeys tall, more like four foot nothing, but she crushes everything in her path, inflicting emotional and physical harm on practically everyone she encounters. Yet such is the power of Fingscheidt's storytelling and, particularly, Zengel's precocious performance, that we hold out hope for the little tyke even when it becomes clear she simply may not have a place in the world.

system crasher review

Benni is a "system crasher", a child so unruly that the welfare system is unable to find a home for her and instead shuttles her around a variety of facilities until she's inevitably kicked out and moved onto the next one. She harbours a belief that she'll be reunited with her mother, Bianca (Lisa Hagmeister), but that's a pipedream. Bianca has all but given up on Benni, and she fears for the safety of her two younger children in her presence.

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Her reputation has caused many of the welfare workers in her midst to equally give up hope of reforming Benni, but the benevolent Child Protection Services agent Frau Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) remains resolute, determined to get the kid settled. In one affecting scene, Bafané breaks down in tears in a corridor upon realising her efforts are destined to be in vain, and it's Benni who cradles the adult in a rare display of empathy.

system crasher review

The one ray of hope for Benni comes in the form of Micha (Albrecht Abraham Schuch), a specialist in anger management who takes on the unenviable task of escorting Benni to school. Frustrated by the welfare staff's attitude of resignation, Micha suggests taking Benni to a cabin in the woods for three weeks of isolation therapy (Germany must have a very lax policy towards adult men spending time alone with children). Acting as a Mr Miyagi figure, Micha refuses to take any of Benni's shit, and a mutual respect develops. For the first time, we see Benni behave like an average nine-year-old kid, happy to play on swings and chase dogs. But once the retreat is over and Benni is returned to the city, it's back to square one.

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System Crasher doesn't offer any easy answers and refuses to tie up Benni's story in a bow. It becomes clear early on that like Xavier Dolan's Mommy, this is a tale of a child who has fallen through the cracks of a system and the people who try their best to help them, if in vain. There are hints that Micha sees himself in Benni. During a confrontation with a farmer, we see Micha clench his fists in coiled rage. At one point he confesses to Bafané that he worries he may be developing "rescue fantasies" regarding Benni, and when we meet his loving wife, Elin (Maryam Zaree), we can't help but wonder if she might have rescued Micha from his own self destruction.

system crasher review

As played by the incredible Zengel, Benni is one of those characters who commands your attention. Even the camera struggles to keep up with her dialled up energy, constantly rushing after her as she flees her latest indiscretion. She's often hilarious in her cheekiness, and wise beyond her years, but she's also terrifying and a genuine threat to anyone who lets their guard down around her. A shocking incident of violence will be the make or break point when it comes to audience empathy with Benni, and perhaps the film lets her off a little too easily in its aftermath. But amid all the horror, we see enough glimpses of potential in Benni to understand why someone might be won over by her, like those people who insist on owning dangerous dog breeds. By the end of System Crasher the audience is mentally and emotionally drained, but Benni is still taking it all in her stride, still being chased by that knackered camera operator.

System Crasher is on VOD now.

2020 film reviews