Okay, someone needs to say it – Lionsgate’s latest picture Nerve (2016) should come with a disclaimer. A big ‘Do not attempt’ this at home style tagline. Because in a day and age where people are walking off cliffs in pursuit of pretend Pokémon, truth or dare has never been more dangerous a premise to turn into an online game. Layered with lush visuals and striking songs, it is easy to be lulled into the film’s hypnotic world, where people can meet and fall in love in one night and not worry about the consequences of their actions. In saying that though, it’s also a hell of a ride, so long as one can separate fact from fiction. It might not be a box office blockbuster, but neither is it a feature that rests on its laurels, reminding us that the danger of the internet is not in its invasiveness, but rather in our own deep-seated desires for such actions.
An adaptation of Jeanne Ryan’s young-adult novel of the same name, Nerve tells the story of Vee (Emma Roberts), an uncourageous girl living a world that only accepts those willing to take a risk. Unable to tell her mother she wants to move cross country for college and living in her best friend’s shadow, she takes up a challenge to play a new underground game called Nerve. Divided into watchers or players, participants must complete dares to win cash, filming their antics on mobile phones and streaming them online for the enjoyment of thousands of anonymous spectators. Starting off small, an innocent kiss here, a motor-bike joyride there, the dares soon begin to escalate, as Vee starts to fall for fellow player Ian (Dave Franco) and the two inch closer and closer to the grand prize. Soon, nothing becomes off limits, whether it be stealing, dodging trains, or hanging off cranes high above the city. What was once a bit of fun turns deadly as the lovers become prisoners of the game, manipulated by the competition’s anonymous overlords and forced into the ultimate showdown.
Clocking in at slightly more than 90 minutes, Nerve is a rush of blood to the head, with co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman turning New York into their own visual playground. While the cinematography doesn’t quite blend seamlessly with the technology, the city provides the perfect backdrop for some high stakes movie magic. Fluorescent lights stand stark against a colourfully saturated landscape and even cheap diners are lit in an enchanting and ethereal way. It helps that it is complemented by a superb soundtrack, gushing gems as diverse as the internet itself, from Roy Orbison’s ‘You Got It’, to Wu Tang Clan’s ‘C.R.E.A.M’. The best representation for the film comes from MØ’s ‘Kamikaze’ though, the lyrics revealing the ending before it has time to play out, while washing the film in the effervescent energy it strives so hard to achieve.
Teen thrillers can so often fall into the trap of relying on the technology to do its taunting and for a long while Nerve manages to avoid that. It’s a credit to the screenwriters that the players don’t even start doing dangerous dares until at least halfway in, instead building the suspense and imbuing genuine interplay between the leads. However, all its ingenuity unravels in the third act, stumbling on the last leg with a poorly-planned finale. A contrived crescendo leaves us a little empty and longing for more, turning what could have been a great film, into just a good one. As we head into the somewhat exciting, somewhat dreadful experience that is the fall film festival circuit and the lead-up to Awards season though, it’s inspiring to see that Hollywood is still eager to take risks with fresh, fun and frivolous films. It beats the hell out of a ‘found footage’ style documentary any day.
As for the acting, Franco recycles the same smart, stylish and suave persona he has come to be known by, albeit on a grander scale. No longer the sidekick when he so clearly should be the lead, he is everything his older brother is and more. Roberts too is refreshingly charismatic, starting to shed her doe-eyed roles for more mature fanfare. The supporting characters though are contrived creations, forced into blink and you’ll miss it moments. Even top tier talent like Orange is the New Black’s (2013) Kimiko Glenn and Samira Wiley can’t help but be washed away underneath the colourful undertow. Miles Heizer’s best-friend Tommy is almost entirely confined to a car, taking the ‘friend-zoned’ formula to a whole new level, while Juliette Lewis’ crazy-clingy mother could have been replaced by a potato and we would have seen more character growth.
In an age of viral sensations like Pokémon Go, Nerve plays out as a frighteningly realistic possibility. Hiding behind screens and anonymous accounts, people are all too willing to speak their mind, so long as they feel they can’t be held accountable. It’s a massive moral lesson to unload, but one that is both important and refreshingly novel. About the biggest gripe you can raise film the film, outside the derisive denouement, is the lingering question of how the hell the watchers and players phones manage to stay charged throughout their escapades. For the record, I never saw one goddamn charger in the whole film even though there was a hell of a lot of product placement for Apple, a brand whose biggest sellers average less than twelve hours of battery life. So while it’s not the smartest or slickest screenplay out there, sometimes we must just admit that with pleasure there comes pain. And life is about finding the nerve to choose it.
Rating: 3.5 Motorcycle Mates out of 5
Film and TV Reviews
Film and television reviews of everything from independent movies to Disney and superhero flicks.
All video and photo content used on this site is sourced and all credit must go to the original owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright © 2019. CINEMATICISM.
All Rights Reserved.
Owned by Kirby Spencer.