UK Release Date: 11th August 2016
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Writer: Jessica Sharzer
Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Machine Gun Kelly, Juliette Lewis, Miles Heizer, Samira Wiley
Synopsis: A social media game based on increasingly elaborate dares brings two teens together, but threatens their lives as the crowdsourced nature of the dares sees them become life-threatening in nature.
Nerve is the kind of movie that can easily fly under the radars of multiplex audiences. It’s a slightly bizarre, teen-focused thriller without much in the way of recognisable star power to put on the poster. To dismiss the film as a movie for the millenials, though, would be short-sighted and wrong because it’s an intense and compelling thriller that explores the modern obsession with social status and online approval in a way that is both wildly entertaining and absolutely terrifying.
Vee (Emma Roberts) is a shy young girl, worried about leaving her mother (Juliette Lewis) to go to art school and forever living in the shadow of her outgoing best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Sydney becomes popular online through taking part in smartphone game ‘Nerve’, which sees players given various dares by “watchers” who also use the app and reward their favourite players. Enraged at her life, Vee signs up to play Nerve and soon finds herself thrust into the path of experienced player Ian (Dave Franco), when the watchers take a liking to having them carry out dares together.
Nerve is an impressive, slick thriller from the directorial duo who scared the shit out of a generation of teens with jump scare fest Paranormal Activity 3. It’s powered by an intriguing central idea that feels very prescient in the same summer that saw town centres filled with people gazing into their phones whilst chucking virtual balls at virtual monsters on Pokemon Go. The film’s central smartphone game is an ingenious twist on the Instagram culture where nothing is more important to the self esteem of young people than how many “internet points” they can get earn by spilling their heart and body all over the blogosphere.
Emma Roberts gives a quietly involving performance as the wallflower turned social butterfly by the seductive power of online approval. In the space of the film’s first act, she goes from shy skeptic to fully-fledged player of the game, sucked in by the attention that has always come to her socially exuberant friend more than her. Roberts does a great job of conveying the slow transformation, looking every inch the rabbit trapped in the blinding headlights of internet fame. Dave Franco gets less depth, but his performance proves vital in assisting the film’s transition from knockabout comedy to dark techno thriller.
It’s that transition that elevates Nerve from being a fun teen movie to becoming something genuinely gripping and insightful. Jessica Sharzer’s script, based on the Jeanne Ryan novel, has plenty to say about the dangers of giving yourself over to the internet, creating a scenario in which the watchers don’t want to let go of their new toy and are continuously egged on by the mentality of the anonymous mob to push the envelope further and further. The conclusion might be slightly preachy, but this is an important message and one that it’s great to see tackled in a mainstream movie.
Intrigue isn’t enough to sustain Nerve on its own steam, though, so it’s vital that director Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman produce a visually arresting story. This is a challenge they rise to with aplomb, conjuring a series of memorable sequences, including a pulse-pounding motorbike journey with a potentially lethal twist and a final moment of violence that has genuine impact. The execution isn’t always perfect, but Nerve is unafraid to take risks and emerges as a movie that, rather appropriately, is willing to do absolutely anything to entertain its audience whilst also making them take a long hard look at their smartphones before heading back out to catch that elusive Pikachu.
Pop or Poop?
I wasn’t expecting much from Nerve, but this is a film that is smarter and slicker than its relatively generic marketing would have you believe. Two strong central performances provide the perfect backdrop for a story that poses real questions for the smartphone generation and, despite a conclusion that maybe sneers a little too much at modern culture, it feels like a very modern movie with contemporary sensibilities. Swipe right.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.