Movie Review: Nerve (2016)
“Take a blind ride.”
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade
Synopsis: A girl gets caught up in a dangerous online game in which players are encouraged to perform a series of progressively more risky dares in return for money.
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If it wasn’t for the fact that teen-thriller Nerve is such an insistently stupid movie, it would be tempting to see, under its flashy neon-lit surface, a serious condemnation of the growing culture of reality programming. It’s not overstating the fact to say that today a faceless army of viewers have the power to literally shape the lives of those vying for their votes on TV and internet reality shows, and Nerve, set in the very near future, makes the intuitive leap of having the flippant decisions of one of the least stable of social demographics dictating the actions of those prepared to go to any lengths for a fleeting moment of fame and a whole lot of money. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t have a clue what to do with its genuinely fascinating concept.
The film’s title refers to an internet game which offers money prizes for those prepared to undertake a series of increasingly risky dares in return for cash prizes which are immediately deposited into the player’s bank account upon each successful completion. To ensure that the player does genuinely perform each task, they must record themselves on their mobile phones, which can be kind of tricky when you’re balanced on a horizontal ladder spanning neighboring buildings. The dares are set by those who log onto the game as watchers, the silent majority who, by inference, lack the necessary… well, necessary what? – Nerve? Drive? Spirit? Stupidity? Whatever it is, high school student Vee (Emma Roberts – Blow, We’re the Millers) would seem to be one of those who would never participate in either role – until, that is, she’s goaded into it by her prettier, more adventurous, friend, Sidney (Emily Meade – Young Adult, Money Monster).
Vee’s first task is to kiss a stranger, and the boy she chooses is Ian (Dave Franco – Warm Bodies, Now You See Me) who also just happens to be a player. Watchers following Vee’s game like the chemistry between them so much that Vee and Ian repeatedly find themselves being teamed up to carry out their dares, which, as the night progresses, grow increasingly dangerous – and lucrative. However, Ian is concealing a dark secret from his past which threatens to derail their deepening relationship.
Nerve is one of those movies adapted from a novel from which it takes almost nothing other than the title and characters names – although it’s difficult to believe that the source material could be anywhere near as slapdash as the movie. It goes without saying that Nerve is the kind of game which couldn’t exist in the real world, and Jessica Sharzer’s screenplay does little to convince us that it could in the alternate reality in which the film takes place. How, for example, are the dares which the players are given to carry out, selected when there are thousands of watchers, a fair proportion of whom are each presumably proposing their own juicy dare? And how does a game that is so popular with teenagers escape the attention of the authorities?
Nerve sets out with a premise that is mildly intriguing, if only because of the potential directions it could take. But, as it self-consciously strives to maintain its cool (and convince us that a small army of watchers would watch on enthralled as a couple of kids get tattoos), it grows increasingly, annoyingly stupid. And then it gets just… stupider… as it blunders towards its laughable climax. Younger teens might get off on Nerve, but it’s one of those movies that, when revisited as an adult, will leave them wondering how they could ever have believed such rubbish was cool.
(Reviewed 21st August 2016)