Over the years we’ve seen plenty of movies about the shy kid coming out of his/her shell, but they’ve never felt (or looked) anything quite like Nerve. Constructed as a cautionary tale about the dangers of social, online gaming (we’re looking at you, guys-who-fell-off-a-cliff-playing-Pokemon-Go), the film’s message may not end up resonating very much with its intended audience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not completely effective as a high-adrenaline thrill ride.
Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 4) have orchestrated a pedal-to-the-metal bit of fun that might as well come with the tagline, “Well, that escalated quickly.” Shot half conventionally and half through the first-person lens of iPhone cameras, Nerve makes the most of the solid script by Jessica Sharzer (TV’s American Horror Story), and the result is surprisingly good.
Vee (Emma Roberts) is the shy kid in question, living quietly on Staten Island, afraid to talk to “that guy”, and seemingly happy to just remain in the shadow of her loud and brash best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Syd is a seasoned pro at the titular online game, billed as “truth or dare, without the truth”, where watchers come up with dares for players. Complete the dare (eat dog food, flash a crowd at a pep rally), and you get cash.
After Syd’s incessant prodding, Vee finally gives in and becomes a player, and her first dare brings her to fellow player Ian (Dave Franco). The two team up, and before long they’re in the big city, and the dares are getting more and more dare-y.
There’s no doubting the script’s moral lesson, but as with 1998’s The Truman Show (which certainly didn’t deter anyone from reality television), there can be little hope that it will fall on receptive ears. Did a single person stop playing Pokemon Go after that guy crashed his car into the back of a police cruiser? More likely, the game actually enjoyed an uptick after that.
But just because Nerve’s message will likely go in one ear and out the other doesn’t prevent it from being a very entertaining flick. Joost and Schulman put their foot on the gas and don’t let up until the end, upping the stakes and the escapades every chance they get and setting the whole thing to the beat of a hip, alt-pop soundtrack. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds also gets credit for his creative camera work, and production designer Chris Trujillo (who served in the same role on the current Netflix hit Stranger Things) earns kudos too.
Nerve isn’t perfect, by any stretch–the end feels too cobbled-together and the resolution comes way too quickly–but the combined talents of everyone involved successfully elevate the film from a very short life as yet another throw-away teen flick.