TL;DR – Nerve is an ambitious film that gets a lot of credit for tackling one of the big problems of the Internet, its mob mentality, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Nerve as a film is sort of a first, well at least for me it is, as it is the first mainstream film I have seen that really attempts to address the rise of the YouTube celebrity, the Social Media star, the Internet Mob, and the clear problems that come from displaying your lives online for all to see. However, unlike other attempts to engage in this topic which come off as either old people making a film, they think young people will like or indeed, the moralising ‘lazy silly millennials have it too easy’, Nerve is trying to engage with these important issues, but not in a condescending way.
Nerve tells the story of a group of friends about to graduate high school who become participants in an underground online app called Nerve. Now besides being the quickest ‘roll credits’ CinemaSins has ever done, Nerve is an app which allows you to be a ‘Player’ or a ‘Watcher’, Players get given dares that they have to do which gives them money, Watchers pay a subscription and get to watch but also pick the dares, however, if a Player refuses to do the dare, or does not do it in enough time they are out of the game, and of course ‘Snitches get Stitches’. Vee (Emma Roberts) is happy not to be involved and let her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) become famous on Nerve until Sydney breaks BFF rule number 1 and Vee decided to join up as a Player to live a little. Here she ‘randomly’ runs into Ian (Dave Franco) who shock horror is also a player and shenanigans abound, until you know, stuff gets real.
There is a lot of really interesting themes going on in Nerve, the dissociative effect of the Internet that makes us forget that there is a real person on the other end of our text/rant/troll, how the Internet has fostered a mob mentality that can have serious repercussions when combined with the already messy lives of teenagers and the gladiatorial nature of today’s entertainment when people struggle to stay relevant while schadenfreude permeates popular culture. Nerve does a really good job of showing you these issues through this lens of the game, and the repercussions that they can have. These issues have an impact because there is really good chemistry between the two leads, and without that, this film would not work. Dave Franco shows his range and his physicality in this role, he is really carving a name out for himself in these types of films. As well as this, Emma Roberts really nails her character that finds themselves in too deep desperately trying to find out the right thing to do.
From a technical standpoint, there is a lot of really interesting things going on in this movie that really help give it a unique style. One of the conceits in the film is that Players have to always record themselves but watchers can film them too, so this allows for some really interesting camera shots that help give a lot of the action more intimacy than it would have normally. Though some of those shots do come off with you going, there is no way someone filmed that, in that location, with their phone. As well as this, [Spoiler] there were some moments of the film where people go out on cranes and other high places, and it is really uncomfortable to watch, which is quite the testament as these scenes always feel more than a little bit safe.
While there are a lot of great things that work really well with Nerve, there are a couple of things that are just a bit frustrating, and to do that we do have to delve into the story a little bit, so [Spoiler Warning]. Firstly at times it can be a bit predictable like you can probably work out what will happen during that entire ladder sequence. Also, Nerve is really dependent on you not thinking through the scenario, but once you do, it just starts to unravel. For example, on one hand, it is good that they have set Nerve up to be completely crowdsourced, there is no big evil person/organisation/company behind it, this really helps the ending, but on the other hand logistically it creates a universe that just does not make sense. There is a reason we have the phrase ‘designed by committee’, there is no way (especially with the climax of the film) that this could have happened unorganised. As well as this, as the film progresses, it shown that every man and their dog is watching Nerve, with mobs of Watchers following Players around New York, it all undermines the core tenets of the App that it is meant to be underground, with the media and the authorities not knowing about it (see Snitches get Stitches). There is no way in today’s terrorism-conscious world that this game would go unnoticed, at one point, one of the dares is to try and steal a policemen’s gun, I mean come on.
In the end, Nerve is not without its problems, but that being said, it is well acted, well directed, it has a unique style and it is dealing with really important issues. So while it doesn’t quite stick the landing, the routine was amazing to watch.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Screenplay by – Jessica Sharzer
Based on – Nerve by Jeanne Ryan
Starring – Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Juliette Lewis, Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker & Samira Wiley
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; NZ: M; UK: 15; USA: PG13