I had completely forgotten about Nerve. I saw the trailer exactly once and thought it seemed interesting. Then it came out, apparently reviewed fine and performed fine, but nobody anywhere seemed to be talking about it. Then it dropped on blu-ray in only 3 months which I think used to be a bad sign but these days seems to be the standard. Then I rented it. Not sure why I wrote all this backstory but it’s too late to delete it now.
Vee (Emma Roberts) is introduced to the online game Nerve by her friend Sydney, who is becoming more and more popular within the game’s ranks. In the game, you choose whether you want to be a player or a watcher. The players do a series of escalating dares that are presented by the watchers. All of it is streamed live and people tune into the players they find the most interesting. The dares start small, like asking a player to make-out with a complete stranger and eventually start to become dangerous, like reaching 60 mph on a motorcycle while blindfolded. Oh and the bigger the dare, the bigger the pay-out. Vee picks to be a player to prove to Sydney she can do it, and eventually she teams up with another player, Ian (Dave Franco), finding that the two of them are pulling in a ridiculous amount of viewers. But you guys, I really think Ian is up to something nefarious. And I also think there is something not so right with this whole Nerve game. To find out if I’m correct, you should watch Nerve, which it turns out is actually a pretty good use of your time.
Yes, it is very much a stretch to even call this a horror movie. It’s a thriller and even then, it’s a very safe one. It never goes too far into dark territory, although the premise would certainly allow for it. The first hour is almost a teen comedy, with Vee and Ian having their meet cute and proceeding to fall for each other as they run around New York and have adorable adventures. They also deal with the standard teen movie issues like boys they are into not being into them and jealous friends. It’s not until the last part of the movie where things start to take a more sinister turn, but it never strays far beyond PG safe territory.
I’ve never been a big Emma Roberts fan. She seems fine at the whole acting thing but it’s getting hard to distinguish her roles from one to the next, at least in the material I’ve seen her in (Scream 4, Scream Queens, American Horror Story). Here though she is quite good in the lead. She isn’t playing her go to cold/evil character and instead is actually very likable as Vee. She grounds the movie well and presents a character you want to see win this game. Dave Franco is quickly becoming my favourite Franco and this movie only continues that upwards trend. Dude is charming as all hell and that helped generate some suspense for me because damn it, I didn’t want Ian to turn out to be a villain. Don’t you do that to me Dave Franco!
What I liked the most about Nerve though is that it has something to say about the Internet-fame obsessed era of teens and young adults we are currently living in. Think of all the ridiculous shit you’ve seen people do online, purely in the interest of gaining followers and getting attention. Nerve delves into the concept of how far people are willing to go in order to obtain this, and how this petty nonsense will lead to them pushing away their real-world relationships just so a bunch of asshole strangers on the Internet will watch them do a bunch of dumb shit. It also deals with the dark side of the internet and people’s fascination with seeking out the grimmest shit they can find on there. It’s not exactly subtle in its portrayal of this stuff. In fact, it is one step away from having a character sit down and lecture directly to the audience. Either way, I appreciated that it was there.
Nerve was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the same directors responsible for Paranormal Activity 3, aka The Only Good Paranormal Activity movie. Unfortunately, I think they are also responsible for the fourth Paranormal Activity, arguably the worst in the series, but they redeem themselves with this one. Nerve has a terrific look to it and an unrelenting level of energy in its presentation. It’s also one of the rare movies that seems to understand how the world of social media works. It doesn’t seem like adults trying to relate to kids. “What is up on the Twitter universe my My Space pals?” Occasionally a scene will play out as it shows what the watchers are saying in the comments and it’s just as vile as you would expect to see on the actual internet, though not in a way that’s too over the top.
The actual game of Nerve is presented well and its pretty believable such a thing could exist. The sense of escalation with the dares works well and it feels believable that these characters would continue to go along with it. I do wish a bit more time was spent on the details of the game because I ended up with a lot of questions. For one, how are the police not making more of an effort to stop this shit? The only interactions with police indicates they don’t even know the game exists but seemingly every single teenager in the entire city is taking part. Maybe that’s all being saved for a sequel, but I do think that could have been more interesting versus whether or not things will work out for Vee’s friend who is in love with her.
I enjoyed Nerve far more than I expected. It’s a fast-paced and fun movie that has an effective, though not at all subtle, take on modern youth culture. The relationships between the characters are given quite a bit of focus and it can be a little hard to care about that stuff, but the actual game of Nerve is well done and made me want to know more about it, so that means they did their job well here.