NERVE [2016]

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Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Written by Jeanne Ryan (novel), Jessica Sharzer (screenplay)

Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade


Nerve is based in 2020, but it could easily be based in the world we live in today. From ‘planking’ to Jackass to ‘Pokemon Go’, none of this movie seems surprising in our app-driven society. The clips that Nerve players film of themselves could easily have been pulled from YouTube itself. Maybe they were. What hurts though is that this is a promising premise that doesn’t deliver.

So what is Nerve?

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The player signs up as a watcher or a player. The watchers decide what the dares are for the players, and the two most popular players by the end of the game enter a ‘final round’. It is all a bit over-the-top and grandiose, but so far, so good. These dares begin to turn into dangerous stunts as, this course, it will get more viewers, more hits, more clicks, more likes, more thumbs up, more re-tweets. The game also requires that you enter all your bank and personal information, another nod towards current technology.

In addition to all this, all dares must be filmed on the player’s phone, or they ‘fail’, and lose all the money they have earned. Money makes the world go round, as does the media (‘social media’, rather), and the film portrays this realistically and in a way that is incredibly believable. This could easily happen today.

Peer pressure pushes Vee over the edge, as pokes from friends about her lack of fun and adventure hurt. Her friend Sydney is also extremely popular within the game. Vee meets Ian meet via a ‘kiss a stranger for 500$’ dare, and it turns out Ian plays Nerve too. The watchers decide that they like the couple, as the rest of the film plays out mainly between these two, and also Vee’s competing and jealous friend Sydney, but it isn’t a fully-written side-plot and doesn’t really go anywhere.

The watchers dare the two to perform increasingly insane stunts for incredible amounts of money, and bailing is equal to failing – all money lost. So the game holds the player prisoner in a way; the film not so subtly suggesting the link between increased digital technology holding us prisoner, holding us back from truly connecting like we did, say, thirty years ago when we ate family dinners around the dinner table without devices in one hand.

The ending makes a statement itself, but again at the same time it just isn’t that exciting or tense. It is well written, but it doesn’t engage the viewers often enough. The paper-thin characters can’t help here, as well as the complete lack of chemistry between Dave Franco and Emma Roberts.

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Nerve is entertaining enough, and well-edited, but there isn’t a high level of tension or dread to be found. It does though make a much, much better point about social media than the truly awful Uninvited. One can’t help but think though that this could have been a tense, unpredictable thriller, without the level of sheen and polish and neon colours that this film has in four beer(1)abundance, all of which is at odds with the tone of the story. Perhaps this is because Nerve seems to be aimed at the YA market, who knows. But do know that this isn’t gritty or dark, and it won’t have you holding your breath. It certainly says a lot of things about growing up in this modern, ‘connected’ world, but the film itself just isn’t that exciting.

Two beers short of a sixer

4/6