(This is a spoiler free review)
The game of dares that grows wildly out of control. Nerve: A teen thriller, laced with adrenaline and perfectly sculpted toward the online community, or a cleverly crafted statement on the dangers of group anonymity?
I’ll admit, I went into this movie expecting almost nothing: A few cheap thrills, some enjoyable Dave Franco screen time, essentially, an enjoyably average film. In fact, I only went to see it because it was put on by my local Slackers Club, which of course meant my cheapskate student self, got in for free.
However, I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
The film did start rather shakily, with an offensively long montage of Vee (Emma Roberts) using her laptop in an attempt to prove to the audience that yes, she is just like every other social media obsessed teen. Either that, or directors are learning new, tech related methods to add bland, but necessary, exposition into their films. Regardless, once establishing the setting and characters, and giving us a taste of Vee’s quirky but boring life, the film comfortably eases itself into the main attraction and selling point, which is of course, NERVE.
NERVE is an online game in which you can choose to be a PLAYER or a WATCHER. The Watchers anonymously pay to watch, and control, the Players, who are challenged to perform dares for money. Once choosing to play, the player can either complete, bail, or fail the dare, which is in itself a nerve wracking limitation.
Hoping to prove something to herself and her painfully scrutinising best friend, Vee signs up to play, this is clearly her first mistake. The dares, which lead her path to become entwined with the Nerve Player, Ian (Dave Franco), become increasingly more risky and dangerous, causing her viewers and bank balance to grow in size. Not to mention putting herself, and her friendships on the line.
As the game progresses, you too find yourself caught in the momentum and thrill of it all, wanting the pair to simultaneously win, and escape the game for good.
Admittedly, there were multiple moments throughout the movie that I felt my heart racing, and my whole body tensing, as I watched the amiable duo’s struggle. And yet, despite this, I still felt the desire for them to move onto bigger, and more outrageous acts. A desire which is mirrored by the Watchers.
This tech based narrative is of course entirely fitting with the current presence of social media within our lives, as it is one that feeds off of viral videos and the infinite possibility of the internet. By playing to the likes of a generation raised on social media, the directors (Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman) cleverly use this to align the audience with the Watchers of the game, as we too are watching and enjoying witnessing these stunts, whilst remaining safely “anonymous”.
This, along with the use of the infamous Anonymous Mask which is seen on multiple Watchers throughout, is what brings me to question the message behind the film. The anonymity of the Watchers allows them to remain detached from the activities and crimes they are paying the Players to commit. Because of this, it does feel, especially in the final round of the game, that we are being encouraged to contemplate just how far a person will go, for either money, or sadistic pleasure. Could this be a statement on the power and the dangers, of the hive mind set of internet anons? Or was it simply an observation of current behaviours and interests, that allowed the directors to create a fictional thriller, closely paralleled with reality?
However you look at it, the film undeniably plays with the current dynamic of hand-held voyeurism to achieve a tense and unnerving narrative, and does so in a way that feels uncomfortably real.
The illusion of realness is, mostly, what makes the film so tense. The situation is almost too plausible, and with the mixture of Point Of View shots, from both the Watchers’ and Players’ perspective, it becomes easy to forget that these dares aren’t actually happening.
The acting throughout was consistently likeable. Roberts’ performance took a somewhat unoriginal character from ‘small-town girl’ to believable heroine, with the wavering self-confidence and blind adrenaline that you’d expect from someone in her situation. As I’ve found with most of his roles, Franco stood out amongst the cast, portraying Vee’s partner in crime (literally) in a way that made him, quite frankly, impossible to dislike. As for the secondary characters, I honestly have very little to say, but I was very excited to see Samira Wiley on the big screen as the expert hacker, who’s importance grows as the film progresses.
Once it got rolling, the plot was easy to follow, engaging and thankfully, not too predictable. The whole nature of the Watchers deciding on the dares, and therefore the direction of the narrative, really did keep both the audience and the Players guessing.
Despite personally growing tired of the often unnatural and forced on screen romances of Hollywood, the relationship between Vee and Ian isn’t unbearable. Yes, there were a couple cheesy moments, but for the most part, their relationship felt as casual and natural as the scenario allowed and I frequently found myself smiling with them, and for them.
The soundtrack was appropriate and complimentary, if not maybe a bit too appropriate, as each track did seem to want to remind us of Vee’s ‘quirky’ indie-ness. But, the overall finish of the film was good. Throughout the film, the colouring manages to balance itself between the neon hell of TRON and the delicacy of a sepia infused Independent film, resulting in a pleasant aesthetic that fits with the feel of the piece.
In fact, the only place in which the the film falls a little flat is the ending. The intensity peaks quite brilliantly, but unfortunately, the audience isn’t allowed the time needed to respond emotionally. The abruptness of the resolution does leave you feeling as if the rug has been swept from under your feet, but it doesn’t compromise the overall effect of the narrative, or the impression it leaves.
Regardless of the intention behind the film’s use of technology, it’s clear that the motif of human attachment to social media, shines through. In fact, like myself, most critics are unable to discuss the film without reflecting on societies addiction, with particular focus on youth, to the phenomenon of internet culture. One review read:
If this movie can’t get teens to look up from their devices and pay to see a movie at a multiplex, nothing can.
And I won’t lie, I didn’t read the full article; the patronising stance on a teenagers use of technology was more than enough to put me off. But, I do find it interesting that in a movie entirely based around the power and success of mobiles and social networking, this is the comment Salkin chooses to put forth.
Yes, the movie is captivating. And angled toward a younger audience. But why use this to insult their interests? The directors are unashamedly inviting people who enjoy internet culture, and share the seemingly human desire to watch strangers doing things that they never would, into their film, and should be praised for doing so. The movie successfully uses what we know and love to create something modern and refreshingly unique.
Besides, in watching the film, the ‘teens’ would just be taking part in an overly glorified (not to mention typically less inclusive and more problematic), money stuffed version of whatever it is they are watching on their phones, no?
(Personally, I just enjoy the irony of knowing that I didn’t pay to see the movie, enjoyed it, and then returned to look down at my ‘device’ to tweet about it afterward. Awful, isn’t it?)
In conclusion, the film was largely enjoyable. It was tense, impossible to look away from, despite often wanting to, and I’d most definitely recommend it. Especially, to those who find themselves drawn into the wonderful, yet sometimes unnerving, world of the internet.