Sometimes, movie trailers just speak to you. Regardless of if you’re the demographic a film is going for, or if it’s even the sort of movie you don’t normally go for, a good trailer can tick all the right boxes to get you interested in a film. Such was the case with Nerve, a film that’s squarely aimed at a teenage audience, but that still seemed like the sort of film fellow podcast co-host Kelsey Lehr and I would queue up to stream while hanging out.
Based on the 2012 Jeanne Ryan novel, Nerve is the sort of movie that can go either way, too, with its high concept story – a real-world social media game that has players competing increasingly risky dares to win money while thousands of people watch online – providing plenty of opportunities to drop the ball and deliver an unbelievable farce. However, Nerve actually manages to deliver a solid, entertaining film, one that offers plenty of thrills and funny moments.
The story finds Emma Roberts playing Venus, an introverted young woman who’s about to graduate high school. Venus learns about the underground game “Nerve” from her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) and, after a few too many comments about how much she avoids living her life, Venus decides to join the game as an active Player instead of a passive Watcher. Before long, she finds herself teamed up in the game with the mysterious Ian (Dave Franco), taking on bigger dares and chasing even larger amounts of money.
The film’s narrative is built around the challenges Venus and Ian have to face throughout the night, and it’s an engaging premise. There’s a constant thrill to seeing what dare the two will receive next, particularly as early challenges, like making out with a stranger, give way to more dangerous tasks, such as riding a motorcycle blindfolded. And the filmmakers do a great job of bringing you into the action, shooting the dares in such a way that you feel a great amount of tension and dread when the duo – as well as other Players across the city – risk their lives.
Of course, a movie needs more than solid action scenes to succeed, and Nerve has a lot else going for it. Roberts and Franco each do solid work in the lead roles, and the chemistry between the two is fantastic. Their personal story arcs are well-serviced throughout the film, and they keep the otherwise over-the-top concept grounded. The supporting cast is also strong, with Meade and Juliette Lewis – as Venus’ mother – as two standouts. Plus, Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley is a lot of fun in a brief role as the leader of a hacker group.
Yeah, there’s a hacker collective in the film, and if there’s one minor complaint, it’s just how familiar and comfortable the teenage characters are with the dark net. Plus, Nerve itself is somehow a complete secret from authorities, despite the thousands of participants it has; I can’t imagine a real-life Nerve not popping up in an io9 article or two. Lastly, things begin to push into the (admittedly enjoyable) ridiculous by the end, with the film’s climax taking place in a literal gladiatorial arena, complete with cheering, bloodthirsty crowd.
Still, I forgive these quibbles because they speak to the central point of the story. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman use the film to comment on the way young people use social media and the internet to interact with one another. While the film isn’t too subtle about the dangers it’s trying to point out – Venus has a speech towards the end of the movie that lays the message out far too clearly – it still manages some effective commentary in some of its scenes.
Ultimately, Nerve is far from a perfect film, but it delivers enough thrills and fun moments to be a recommendable time; that it also manages some solid social commentary is a pleasant, welcome surprise. So, in the question of whether you should be a Watcher or Passer on Nerve, I can’t help but advise you to go with the former.
Final Score: 8 out of 10