Helen Zengler is the astonishing nine-year-old actress who plays the out of the control Bennie in Nora Fingscheidt’s brilliant System Crasher.
The name of the film is a term used for children who are deemed beyond hope, seems appropriate here for the rage-filled Bennie. Prone to psychotic outbursts, Bennie is a strain upon her timid and struggling mother who has put her in care to protect Bennie’s younger siblings. The workers are exhausted, unable to stop the violent behaviour. On her side, Maria Bafané is the fatigued key social worker who keeps trying, against the odds, to get her settled and a brand new school escort Micha who senses parts of himself in Bennie. As all attempt to find her a home and quell her tempers, could Bennie be beyond hope?
Fingscheidt’s work is a tense and chaotic one that hones in on this badly behaved child in an attempt to settle her. The compelling film is that of toe-curling tension because Bennie has lucid moments of normalcy and calm. When you think someone has reached and settled her, such as an ill-fated camping trip in the woods, a sudden word, phrase, or incidents sets off another rampage. As Bafane herself becomes ragged with Bennie’s action, collapsing in tears in despair at one point (which does lead to a tender Bennie moment,) the audience does too.
Zengler is terrific and unnerving here. Bennie screams and shouts through the bedlam, Zengler is nuanced enough to give her an understanding and a soul. She is so much more than a psychotic child whose passions and emotions boil and burst. There is so much she yearns to find solace in: The quiet of the woods, animals, and the gliding of ice-skating. Bennie just can’t help herself and as frustrating as it is to watch, Zengler performs it so you do get a sense of how her moods are set-off.
This is best utilized in when a serene moment turns into madness as Bennie takes care for a younger child only for the parent to turn to instant distrust, setting off calamity all over again. Not only are you irritated with Bennie, but you can be for the adults around her in spite of understanding their clear dismay at the situation. Zengler is superb, honing this realistic troubled child.
There also seems to be little answers in how Bennie became this way beyond the reasoning that she just is a tearaway child with a parent unable to love her in the way she needs. The never-ending cycle of Bennie does become a tedious and tiresome watch but that’s the point. There is no easy or satisfying conclusion here and as you too are wracked and annoyed by Bennie.
The end will sit with you uneasily as you confront the possibility that Bennie may be beyond saving.
System Crasher is out on Digital Download today!