The Good: Direction, Performances, Mood
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot progression, Light on character development
The Basics: Nerve is a surprisingly well-constructed thriller that makes excellent use out of its young cast.
As Summer Blockbuster Season winds down, there are actually very few films I feel like I missed. Nerve was, in fact, probably the only film I missed on its opening weekend that I actually wanted to see, but today I rectified that. I was drawn to Nerve because it stars Emma Roberts. While I have not loved everything that Emma Roberts has been in, I was impressed by her innate talent as a child actor in Hotel For Dogs (reviewed here!) and as she has grown up, she has only seemed to become more talented. Emma Roberts and her performance was not the problem with Adult World (reviewed here!), for example. Now that I have finished it, I am sorry it took me so long to get around to watching Nerve!
Nerve has a decent blend of young performers and while the initial concept of the film did not actually appeal to me, the execution of it was done well-enough that I found myself investing in the characters and the premise. For the first time in a long time, a thriller actually left me curious as to where the film was going; because of the nature of the concept, there was a tone of danger that fit the idea that any of the characters could be killed at any moment and that at least kept Nerve unpredictable.
Vee is a shy high school senior living on Staten Island, too afraid to click "like" on a photo of the boy she has a crush on, when her friend Sydney messages her about Nerve. Nerve is an online dare-based game and players are rewarded with cash; Sydney wants Vee as a "watcher" for the game (there are watchers and players in the game). Sydney completes a dare at a football game where she has to moon the bleachers and when Vee won't talk to the guy she has a crush on, Sydney tries to move things along. Vee returns to her home and signs up for Nerve and she is almost immediately given an assignment. For $100, Vee has to kiss a stranger for five seconds. At the diner, Vee (for Venus) sees a guy who is reading her favorite book and she kisses him. After he completes a dare of his own, Vee and Ian start talking. Vee's friend Tommy warns her that Nerve has data mined Vee's social media in order to manipulate her, but when the next dare comes in with Vee and Ian being offered $200 just to go into New York City, Vee goes with him for the money.
Vee and Ian quickly begin to ascend in the contest, getting a burst of watchers as they complete tasks like trying on an expensive dress in a department store and fleeing the department store after another player steals their clothes. While Tommy tracks Vee and Vee's mother, Nancy, is unnerved by the sudden influx of deposits into their joint fund, Sydney becomes jealous of Vee's fast rise in popularity. When Tommy uses the deep web to research Ian, he finds that Ian was a player in Seattle, where players of Nerve were rumored to die in the game. For $10,000, Vee navigates a blindfolded Ian on his motorcycle up to a speed of 60 miles per hour. After getting into a huge fight with Sydney for Nerve, Vee attempts to go to the police and discovers there is another level to Nerve and she and Ian are in mortal danger going into the finals!
Nerve is an interesting social commentary in the way it illustrates to consequences of youth culture being so interconnected. It does not take long before it is obvious that Ian is manipulating Vee and the way her phone is hacked to allow Nerve watchers to make side bets is a realistic consequence of the type of game Nerve represents. The young adult players of Nerve make for realistic subjects for the shortsighted, stupid dares that the characters are compelled to take. Nerve takes place over a single night, so the lack of reflection by the characters makes sense and it fits the way the game escalates smartly.
While Dave Franco and Emma Roberts dominate Nerve, Miles Heizer makes surprisingly good use out of his supporting role of Tommy. Tommy is a geek who is a hacker and has hacker friends and to pull off the role credibly, Heizer has to play geeky and a level of smart that he was not required to on Parenthood. Heizer manages to do it well without going over the top; he delivers the technobabble adequately and he plays the role as essentially human.
Nerve takes the concept of a reality game to its logical conclusion with the threat of mortal peril. I've always loathed the idea of something like Russian Roulette as a reality show and as they pointed out on Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (reviewed here!) that is pretty much all that is left. Nerve manages to get to that point without sensationalizing it. In other words, by the time Nerve gets to the point where a gun comes into play, the game itself is not entertaining; the process of watching the characters struggle to defeat the game is the entertaining aspect.
Emily Meade is initially easy to write off in Nerve as a cute twentysomething playing a teen, but she fits the role perfectly and does exactly what the part needs her to. In Nerve, the viewer is supposed to believe that Emma Roberts is a high school senior that has never been noticed by her classmates; Emma Roberts is Hollywood beautiful, so Nerve needed to cast someone even more over-the-top in that department to land the premise. Meade is an excellent choice and she lands the role of the high school girl used to having a sidekick like Vee whom she can overshadow and dominate.
Nerve is one of those films that adult audiences are not "supposed" to like; it has a young cast, it explores the folly of youth culture and stupidity, and it escalates in a very predictable fashion. But the problem with reducing Nerve is that it is actually quite good. Nerve happens over the course of one night, which makes the idea work because none of the rejected players have a chance to either squeal and ruin the game for those still playing or anyone caught by the authorities to investigate the game. Nerve is remarkably tight; Vee gains fast popularity by Ian (an established player) and her fast rise upsets Sydney and knocks her out of the running for the finals, leading her to make an impulsive, mean move. Vee, Ian, Sydney, and Ty are all manipulated by the watchers of Nerve and those who make side bets on their actions.
But Nerve is surprisingly good; instead of degenerating into a cheap "dare" film that attempts to entertain - a flaw that films like Gladiator (reviewed here!) falls into when it makes the viewer root for the slave fighting in the arena for entertainment - the movie smartly remains focused on the way the protagonists are shuffled around and manipulated. The film explores the negative personal and social consequences of the game and Nerve succeeds because while the escalation of the game is foreseeable, the outcome is not.
And Vee is interesting. Vee is manipulated, but her character is characterized initially as smart and the pay off of Nerve is that the story sees that through to its logical conclusion. The directors of Nerve do a decent job of illustrating the invasive nature of Nerve with tags over New York City as players play and are eliminated.
Ultimately, the social commentary of Nerve makes the film a much-watch. For sure, there are internet trolls who might loathe the admonishment of the climax, but Nerve makes incredibly good points through an engaging story that looks good and utilizes its cast exceptionally well!
For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Whole Truth
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for a comprehensive, organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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