Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Emily Meade, Samira Wiley, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn and Machine Gun Kelly.
A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of “watchers.”
The moment Vee (Emma Roberts) first meets Ian (Dave Franco) in a greasy Queens diner, she sticks her tongue down his throat, apologizes and scarpers to a corner booth where her jealous friend is waiting, having filmed them on her phone. Ian follows up this unexpected occurrence by singing an impromptu rendition of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It”, using the tables and chairs of the restaurant as an ersatz stage. All of this has been filmed on each person’s respective smartphones as part of a game called “Nerve”, where participants complete dares of increasing audacity (and decreasing legality) for cash prizes. The game’s audience of “Watchers” decides they like Vee and Ian together and it’s not long before they’re zooming towards Manhattan on his motorbike, about to have the night of their lives.
If it sounds like a music video, you’re not far off; Nerve, the third feature from Catfish directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, has the slick, glitzy sheen of a Taylor Swift video with a comparable superficiality. The film’s core premise is that Nerve is a secret to anyone over the age of eighteen, and rightly so – when Vee’s mother (a painfully miscast Juliette Lewis) finds out about the reckless danger her daughter’s been putting herself in for fast money and insta-fame, she’s justifiably livid – but its democratic community of unseen hackers and lurkers are too po-faced and sinister to be taken as seriously as Nerve wants to be.
It’s a silly but fun tour of hysterical fears of current western teen culture: if you don’t know where your kids are tonight, they’re probably underage drinking, scaling tall buildings without a harness or riding motorbikes at 60mph while blindfolded – and all at the behest of those darn new-fangled apps!
While its fear-mongering attitude towards new technology and youthful irresponsibility is tiresome, at least the actors have some fun with their roles before the moralising sets in. Roberts and Franco make for a sparky pair with convincing chemistry; Vee’s initial reason for taking part in her dares is to prove to her overbearing, impulsive best friend that she’s not the stick-in-the-mud she seems, but she’s willing to push her limits further as soon as Ian’s in the picture. It’s a corny and predictable love story, but corny can be more than fine in the hands of capable performers.
Nerve‘s story of the hubris and idiocy of youth may not be as nuanced or relatable as a Roberts film with similar themes, the superior Palo Alto, but what it lacks in depth it makes up in energy. The film keeps a frenetic pace with snappy editing and dialogue-heavy scenes quickly giving way to entertaining and novel set-pieces. Schulman/Joost are savvy enough to know that keeping the camera on Roberts & Franco’s alternately exhilarated or terrified faces will involve audiences much more than bombastic action shots.
In the end, you’re not going to leave the cinema with any epiphanies (other than perhaps acknowledging just how much time you spend on your phone), and for some the plot holes and unconvincing hacking that goes on in the last act will be a source of great irritation. But if you’re looking for a slice of dopey entertainment and find an abundance of fairy lights delightfully charming there are worse ways to spend an evening.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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