Nerve stars Dave Franco and Emma Roberts and after some standard teen melodrama the latter signs up to ‘Nerve’ a new gaming app where its watchers set dares for cash. What starts off as meaningless fun suddenly takes a turn once secrets are unveiled about the app and it’s contestants, putting the lives of our leads in danger.
What is quite nice (and by far there is not enough of) is that the film has a unique premise that it is built around which is current and will also speak to the younger generation, and they have just run with it. Don’t get me wrong, Nerve is far from perfect but in an overly saturated superhero market it is nice to have a self-contained story that is just different and departs from anything else around at the moment. It is constructed as part teen drama/part unique premise/part social commentary on the potential big brother dangers from an Anonymous style group, and though the execution and story telling is a bit all over the place it runs at a brisk enough pace that you don’t worry about the cracks so much.
Joint directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (known primarily for Paranormal Activity 3 & 4) lucked out a bit with not only leads Franco and Roberts but some of the supporting cast too as their chemistry is another aspect that diverts your attentions away from some of the flaws. A lot of the dialogue when setting up the characters doesn’t feel too forced and Franco takes an incredibly charming turn, you can’t help but root for them as they start undertaking their dares from the ‘watchers’, even if everyone in the movie is model level pretty, they could all have worked at Abercrombie & Fitch at some time or another. As the movie progresses our protagonists do turn into the sort of cliché’ characters we’ve come to expect from almost any Hollywood movie, but by this time you are hooked in to their escapades and it doesn’t have a massive negative impact on them. One thing Joost and Schulman do well is to make the most with comparably little resources compared to some other considerably bigger films. It is shot with a blend of traditional cinema camera shots and POV found footage style video recordings off of phones from the public. In an age when days can be ruined if you lose your mobile the directors understand the capability of the ‘Nerve’ app and how easy it is too spread and the possibility of a huge social movement behind it, making it completely believable that there could be hundreds of people around filming where you are and what you are doing without your knowledge. This shaky cam style of filming and some of the CGI transitions are a bit jarring in the beginning but you do get used to them after a while and ends up being an effective device. What this style of film making also does is enhance the tense action moments that on the face of it for any other movie would be unspectacular, but because you see the characters through a phone screen a lot of the time there is a grounded realism as well as a lot of tension added to the situations that as a viewer you can get trapped in because of the familiarity of seeing it through the eyes of a camera phone.
Unfortunately for the movie for each bit of good work that is done to make something interesting and watchable there are its drawbacks. The soundtrack is the sort of teeny pop shite that is meant to identify with the younger audiences but will do more to alienate them. It gives this generic bland overtone to something that is anything but, it is a real missed opportunity to give the movie more personality through its soundtrack. There are plot holes dotted throughout, some with back stories, some with logical decision-making, they’re not subtle but they don’t ruin the movie either. Juliette Lewis is also cast and her character is shoehorned into the plot and was unnecessary, not really adding to anything that was going on. For the most part all the characters (with some suspension of disbelief) you can get on board with as being part of the ‘Nerve’ universe, all but for the geeky best friend who is in love with the lead and is also part of a notorious hacking group on the side. This guy is not only far-fetched but there is then an attempt to take down Nerve from said group that doesn’t really make sense and isn’t explained at all. Seriously they are one Matthew Lillard cameo away from everyone shouting “Hack the planet!”
Overall Nerve is entertaining, it has enough innovation throughout to ignore some of the negatives and is a refreshing departure from a lot of the other summer releases. There is your typical ‘insecure girl is dared by outgoing girl to do something to change’ story arc and most of the teen drama is melodramatic (is there any other kind though?!) but it would have been nice to seen more on the ‘dangers of society with how increasingly integrated technology is making it easier to get trapped in a Big Brother style world where your digital fingerprint grows bigger and more vulnerable’ message they tried to convey throughout. Nerve takes some of George Orwell’s 1984, dilutes it, and flips it around and puts it in the hands of the consumers and does a pretty good job at putting this idea across. There is definitely a need for some more innovative stories like this one that are accessible to teens as well as adults.
Nerve takes a current topic in an ever-changing society and does an admirable job trapping the viewer in the world of this app. Easy to watch and likable characters along with good tense set pieces compensate for a plot hole or two in this imperfect but entertaining outing.