Director: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
Runtime: 96 minutes
Nerve warns viewers of the dangerously dehumanising effects of anonymity in a technological age. While it could be dismissed as an over-the-top teen romance that lost its way and wandered dangerously close to an action movie, the underlying message of Nerve, directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, is something to take notice of. Similar to their earlier documentary film Catfish (2010), Nerve, based off Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 novel of the same name, warns of the dangers of using online anonymity as a means to act without consequence in a fast paced format.
The story follows Vee (Emma Roberts), a shy and self-conscious teen constantly in the shadow of her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Pressured by her friends and tired of being labelled as ‘dull’, Vee signs up to Nerve, a popular and seemingly harmless online game in which ‘players’ are given cash rewards for completing dares set by ‘watchers’. After her first dare – kiss a stranger – leads to Vee conveniently meeting Ian (Dave Franco), another Nerve player, she gets pulled into the game and out of her comfort zone through increasingly difficult and dangerous challenges.
The acting in this film, while not incredible, is still enjoyable and engaging. With the film smoothly transitioning from a light-hearted and comedic start, to the compelling and intense climax, the actors follow this tonal shift easily. Aside from a disappointingly underutilised Juliette Lewis as Vee’s somewhat oblivious mother Nancy, the young cast will resonate with younger audiences and give the film a feeling of freedom from authority figures. For more mature audiences, this may be construed as a negative; the independence that resonates with younger viewers may be replaced with judgement on the recklessness of the characters.
The film suffers most in the often clunky and slightly awkward wording of the script and the favouring of a more natural, hand-held camera look. At times this gives the movie a disjointed feeling and detracts from the story. The scenes in the first half of the movie feel somewhat reliant on the digital effects in the form of computer and phone screens overlaid on the characters and settings. While the intention behind these shots is well meaning, the end result feels kitsch and unnecessary.
The film is meant to open up discussion in an exciting medium. As Ariel Schulman said of the film in a promotional interview, “…it leaves you walking away from the theatre talking about more than just the movie… this kicks off a conversation about much larger more relevant topics about the world we live in.”
On the surface, Nerve is a fun and thrilling teen flick that deals with friendships and romance, yet at its core deals with serious issues of internet anonymity and responsibility facing young adults today, in a world ever more reliant on technology. Strip the movie of its clunky script and distracting digital overlays and you’re left with a story that actually says something, and that’s what this film is all about. Not about a visually compelling light show or a love and friendship story, though it still has these things, but about starting relevant conversations about topics that matter now more than ever.