Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Starring Dave Franco, Emma Roberts, Machine Gun Kelly, Brian ‘Sene’ Marc, Emily Meade, Miles Helzer, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jeffries, and Juliette Lewis.
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 sub-genre of movies where game shows go too far, becoming highly dangerous and careless to the life of the participants isn’t necessarily an original concept, but directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3) are approaching the concept from a refreshing angle that definitely adds an intriguingly substantial layer of relevant social commentary to Nerve. The problem is that there isn’t enough focus given to the many different floating sub-plots that would give them the weight mandatory to actually make any of what is happening on screen resonate in a meaningful way.
Nerve is a movie toying with so many interesting ideas, but the script ultimately has no idea what to do with any of them. The game itself (which consists of two groups of people, Watchers and Players, completing dares on digital cameras such as cellphones all for the sake of money and Internet popularity) is not grounded in reality whatsoever from the start, but it’s easy to go along with because viewers will want that seemingly promised social bite that goes for the jugular on pretty much everything wrong with the digital age and how people interact with each other online. In theory there is a good idea here.
Unfortunately, the social commentary feels underdeveloped, half-baked, and inserted so the movie appears more intelligent than the average teenage thriller. To be fair, at least this movie is trying to say something relevant and important, but when you have scenes of Emma Roberts guiding a blindfolded Dave Franco to reach 60 mph on a motorcycle, a bunch of hackers that can bring down an entire network that apparently the police, FBI, CIA, etc. can do nothing about, and characters that don’t feel nearly as developed as they should be to make any of this work, at some point you begin mentally checking out. There’s even a backstory explaining the mysterious character Dave Franco plays and why he is involved with the game, but it is so poorly worked into the plot that it almost feels crammed in after the movie was written. This little side story also paves the way for the film to have a villain of sorts played by none other than Machine Gun Kelly, who gives one of the loudest and most annoying performances of the year.
Social commentary is definitely one of those aspects that can propel a good movie into an astonishing piece of art, but without characters or even scenarios that feel real, the ball is dropped. There are some situations where the movie does get this right (there is a sequence where a drunken teenage girl is dared to tightrope across an unstable ladder between two buildings while other drunken buffoons are egging her on as if it’s totally safe and cool to do, which is actually really sad and says something evil but true about society), but for the most part, Nerve feels like it needed one more final rewrite to nix out the nonsense, so that the experience just consistently escalates danger in a believable way. It’s a shame considering that the movie does build to a climax that should have been far more powerful than it is.
What does help Nerve is that regardless of if the dares are ludicrous or something believably dangerous, they are actually entertaining to watch. Many of them are caught with cinematography that definitely gives the stunts a much-needed edge. For as stupid as the aforementioned motorcycle dare was, I cannot say I didn’t really enjoy watching it as it shifted from overhead shots of Staten Island to close-up shots of a blindfolded Dave Franco speeding down claustrophobic streets. The scene looked nice but just lacked the proper execution to actually instill a sense of danger or reality. Maybe Dave Franco should have been cast as young Han Solo after all with mad commandeering skills like this. Yes, he has some help from Emma Roberts, but he certainly makes driving blindfolded look easy and completely safe.
It’s also unexpectedly a very funny movie that most certainly has its finger on the pulse in regards to how anonymous users behave towards strangers on the Internet. Anyone checking out Nerve absolutely has to pay attention to all of the user comments that flash by on screen during whatever dares are being attempted; it touches upon everything from sexism to flat out being an asshole with rude but golden comments. This is actually the only area where the social commentary is on the money.
The one major plus about Nerve is that even though it isn’t the most well-written movie of the year or anything, the movie’s primary demographic of teenagers might actually take away something useful regarding how their Internet behavior affects people in the real world, and to actually think about actions before they act. As a cautionary tale for the impressionable minds of teenagers, it’s actually a great film. The actual performances from Dave Franco and Emma Roberts aren’t half bad either, with Franco especially showing he can do more than be the obnoxiously stupid goofball of the group in a raunchy comedy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★