Nine-year-old Benni (Helena Zengel) is rebellious, aggressive and unpredictable as she’s expelled from every foster home and special needs school she’s placed at, driving the people around her to despair. While child protection services try to find her a permanent placement, they assign Micha (Albrecht Schuch), an anger management trainer, as Benni’s school escort and suddenly there’s a seed of hope for her.
System Crasher is one of the most uncomfortable and upsetting films I’ve watched in ages. Everything about it feels visceral and real as social services try their best to help Benni, but her age and behaviour are both against her, not to mention the general lack of places in group homes and funding and resources available to help children like her. Mrs Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) is honestly an angel amongst men as a social service worker who does everything in her power to keep Benni in the system that’s failing to support her. She’s one of the few people that Benni seems to like and respect, and the moment where Mrs Bafané’s hopes begin to shatter is heart-breaking.
There are so many highs and lows in System Crasher as you follow Benni’s journey. So often new group homes or foster families are presented as a fresh start and that things might get better for Benni, but that’s until her temper gets the better of her once again. Even though this cycle seems never-ending, you can’t help but continue to hope that Benni will find the home she clearly craves, no matter how many setbacks she faces.
Young Helena Zengel gives a remarkable performance as Benni. She’s able to convey the screaming fits and violent outbursts along with the quieter, softer sides of Benni that begin start to show when she feels secure and loved. Benni’s relationship with Micha is a shaky one and it is presented as another new chance for her. Micha previously worked with teenage boys with anger issues, and his tough love approach is a new experience for Benni and slowly they begin to understand one another.
System Crasher is often shocking as Benni’s mood quickly changes and the director and screenwriter Nora Fingscheidt knows how to slowly build the tension as you, often like Benni, wait for the other shoe to drop. The editing and music choices are often just as chaotic as the emotions Benni is going through. It perfectly captures the chaos that surrounds her – the chaos she often causes, unwittingly or not. System Crasher is like a sucker punch to your emotions as it doesn’t shy away from the hardships of children in care, and puts the focus on a child that is full of anger, fear, and love.
Directed by: Nora Fingscheidt
Written by: Nora Fingscheidt
Cast: Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Lisa Hagmeister