As today’s youth get ever-more obsessed with smartphones and technology, it is apt that the cinema is recognising this more and more, with last year’s Unfriended a prime example of this. Nerve is an excellent effort at capturing the horrible world of the Internet on-screen, to an extent that it is both recognisable and highly depressing. It is as a film that it struggles – it has a number of flaws, but the biggest issue is in its execution. According to its press release, it is a cyber-crime thriller – I expected that when I sat down in the cinema, but was instead treated to one of the funniest films I’ve watched all summer.
Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts) is an industrious high school senior who is tired of living life on the sidelines, living in the shadow of her deceased older brother and her best friend, outgoing Sydney (Emily Meade). Pressured by her friends, Vee decides to sign up to Nerve, a popular online game that challenges players to accept a series of dares to win followers and money. It doesn’t take long before the adrenaline-fuelled competition requires her to perform increasingly dangerous stunts, and Vee and fellow player Ian (Dave Franco) winning the eyes of the watchers. However, when Nerve reaches its final stages and takes a sinister turn, she finds herself trapped in a high-stakes finale that will determine her entire future.
Apparently, Nerve is adapted from a young adult novel, which was also presumably written as a warning fable against the ubiquity of the Internet and the power it now has. The movie (I feel teens will probably get a lot more out of this film than I did) half explores this idea, but it would have been better if it had been darker with it. When things get too dodgy, it produces an ending deus ex machina that doesn’t feel as though it really fits the world – it is a cop-out on a grand level to hammer home a message (without mentioning the massive plot hole that leads to it – Vee goes from not knowing technology to having sophisticated coding knowledge in a night, in one of the least incredulous things in the picture).
Of course, it may be that it fails to feel work because it is unintentionally hilarious (excusing one or two moments of actual drama, I pretty much laughed throughout). The dare sequences are so cocksure that they wind up being amusing, and the film’s preachy climax tries to be insightful and serious, but again is hilarious. There is so much to enjoy here – when Dave Franco’s mystery man pulls a simpering face towards the end as he tells Vee ‘there are three categories in Nerve – you can be a player, a watcher,’ serious look, ‘or a prisoner,’ the whole cinema was full of laughter.
Speaking of Franco, it’s good that there is some easy chemistry between him and Roberts, because there isn’t a lot to them (they’re meant to be teenagers in this – they do not pass). We have some thinly-sketched characters who exist as stereotypes – the shy girl, the hot mystery guy – with a superfluous backstory to add some depth that isn’t really there. The other characters suffer a lot more – Juliette Lewis is massively underused to the extent she may as well not have been there, Meade is hampered by a script that wants to go from liking her to hating her to being sorry for her without sufficient groundwork and there is a nerdy best friend who just looks a bit disappointed until Nerve’s daft climax.
Nerve employs some nice Internet visuals, and it is glossy throughout – sadly, the inventiveness of some of the cinematography far surpasses that of the script. A good concept is let down by a story so laden with plot holes it’s untrue, a lesson so poorly handled that it doesn’t quite work and a general air of silliness throughout.
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Emma Roberts (Vee), Dave Franco (Ian), Emily Meade (Sydney), Miles Helzer (Tommy), Kimiko Glenn (Liv), Marc John Jefferies (Wes)
Running Time: 96 Mins
Image credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/5pXGmKmHgQ4/maxresdefault.jpg