This summer is full of loud and unoriginal sequels and remakes. It’s actually nice when a semi-original movie flies under the radar, whether it be from little promotion or low hype. Nerve is the type of movie that comes out of nowhere. Now, whether it brings quality is another question.
Nerve is a social media platform, patterned on dares and challenges to win money. When the app opens, each user has the option to be a Watcher, and pay to watch people take challenges, or a Player, where you play to win thousands of dollars. Vee (Emma Roberts) is a shy high school senior, who is often chided for being too meek. She takes this opportunity to become a Player in the game and quickly leaves her comfort zone to win seemingly easy money. She quickly encounters Ian (Dave Franco), a Player with a good understanding of what it takes to win. Together, these two win fun challenges and grow a fanbase, but the game challenges them beyond their limits.
Often, movies try to capitalize on the millennial market by “speaking their language.” The results vary from trying too hard to decent to the downright horrendous. The biggest offender of speaking down to the audience while attempting style is Spring Breakers. 2015’s Blackhat wanted to be the new tech-savvy thriller that represented our time. Instead it just wasted time. 2015’s Unfriended was a forgettable horror flick, but its method of storytelling (all seen from the perspective in a laptop) was very clever.
Nerve takes the world where we are always logged on with our information being everywhere, and shows us the pitfalls of social media and mob mentality.
Nerve is actually strongest when it sets up impossible situations. The impetus for these challenges makes for several intense situations. The first act is visually articulate and takes you along for the ride. You essentially become a Watcher. However, the intensity ebbs and flows. When the story slows down, you feel it. That’s when the real issues and plotholes are noticeable. For some reason, they over-explain one of the rules, being that each dare must be filmed on each player’s phone. I suppose it’s meant to amp up the tension when someone is hanging from a giant crane, but the camera perspective makes zero sense. This is not a found footage movie, but it takes elements from the genre. One of those elements, sadly, is the lazy attention to the rules of 1st-person footage.
The cast is serviceable. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are one-note throughout, but the respective note works. Franco is purposely incredulous and adventurous, while Roberts plays the shy girl attempting to sew her wild oats. The flaws in acting only truly show during the “emotional” climax.
This movie had me reflecting on the brilliant BBC series, Black Mirror. If you haven’t seen that yet, it’s on Netflix. I’ll wait…
Each of those Twilight Zones-esque episodes shows a tech-terror view of a possible future. If 30 minutes were cut from Nerve, it would be a tight and intense episode of Black Mirror.
All this said, Nerve is a movie that represents Millenials well. It feels stylish, while trying to give a message and eventually comes off feeling a bit tacky. It is a welcome movie this summer, but may fare better if you watch it at home. B-