In what could be considered to be the best attempt thus far to portray the internet on screen, Nerve endeavours to caution its audiences against the dangers of online immersion but succeeds mostly in presenting how thrilling it can be to embrace it.
With their adaptation of Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 young-adult novel of the same name, the directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, return to familiar fodder. The duo are the same minds behind the thought-provoking 2010 documentary Catfish, which was an entirely different take on the allure and malleability of internet identity that Nerve attempts to tackle.
For Vee (Emma Roberts), an artistic and introverted high-school senior dreaming of leaving her Staten Island home behind in order to pursue her art, a braver version of herself seems to be the perfect plan. So when a friend introduces her to a real-time internet game in which “Players” accept dares from “Watchers” to win money and prestige, Vee can taste her ticket to a new life. It certainly doesn’t hurt matters much that her initial dare is to kiss a stranger, and that the stranger in question is a totally dreamy Dave Franco, and the two soon pair up.
The “Watchers” can’t get enough of them, submitting dares of increasing recklessness for increased cash until it becomes apparent that the two if them are trapped. The details of why and how this happens aren’t as clear as I would have liked, somehow, the people who are mysteriously filling bank accounts can also immediately drain them also? But the film has bigger problems, the screenplay lets down the actors immensely, left with little more to work with than a long line of (admittedly pretty great) stunts before petering out to a contrived ‘they all lived happily-ever after’ end.
The film is visually great though, the graphics added to give the audience the “Watcher” experience are done very well. Shots framed as if the audience is inside of phones or computers, overlaid with text and imagery allowing the audience to be a part of the characters’ online interactions is the most realistic depiction of online identity thus far. For me, this gives Nerve an edge over other films, like 2010’s Chatroom and this year’s Netflix release, XOXO, where the use of the internet becomes central to the plot. In Nerve, the cinematography allows the audience to become “watchers” while watching in a very naturalistic way. New York City is the perfect setting for a film that needs to have a high-stakes feel and the abundance of neon lighting lets the audience feel that we could easily be looking at the future.
Roberts and Franco have a palpable chemistry and their interactions are electric, they just don’t occur often enough. Too much time appears to have been spent on the graphics and the feel of the visual aspect of the film, and as a result the screenplay has suffered. Without much to go on, Roberts comes across for the bulk of the film like a wide-eyed innocent, which makes it all the more confusing at the end of the film, when it becomes apparent that she has orchestrated the downfall of the game that has thus far kept her powerless. Franco does his job ably, his character’s trajectory of mysterious bad-boy redeemed is a path well trodden. Disappointingly, supporting characters get almost nothing from the script, Juliette Lewis is under utilised as she frantically runs around in the background as Vee’s unfathomably clueless mother.
I enjoyed this film. It’s fun and thrilling and even if it does start to take itself a bit too seriously towards the end. Whether fortuitous or by design, Nerve will appeal to the Pokemon Go generation, where masses of people are eagerly signing up for these games in order to lose themselves in an augmented reality. The film looks a lot better than its characters’ sound, but the way the film breaks ground in its depiction of new media allowed me to forgive the screenplay’s transgressions.There were moments where I felt like Nerve was about to head in a darker direction, it didn’t (probably to protect a rating that would allow allow maximum teen consumption) and I really wanted it to. Overall I felt like Nerve could have, and probably should have delved deeper, particularly given the relevance of its subject matter.