Nerve (2016)


Julia Roberts’ niece Emma and James Franco’s brother Dave get a serious workout in Nerve, an energetic teen techno-thriller from the filmmaking team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Viral).
     Emma plays high school senior Venus Delmonico—Vee to her friends, although she doesn’t have a whole lot of those because she’s such a no-fun square. When Vee’s BFF Sydney (Emily Meade, suitably saucy) bullies her into competing in an online, high-stakes reality game called Nerve (“it’s like Truth or Dare only without the Truth,” e.g., kiss a complete stranger for five seconds, try on a couture dress, go to the city, get a tattoo), Vee quickly gets hooked on the game’s progressively more dangerous (and profitable) levels, eventually risking everything to prove just how cool she really is.
     Nerve’s rules are simple and threefold. The first rule of Nerve is: You do not talk about Nerve (to adults they mean). Rule number two: all challenges—dares—must be recorded on the player’s cell phone. Rule three: failure to complete a dare, either by bailing or running out of time, will result in forfeiture of all winnings.
     It sounds a lot dumber than it is, for what makes Nerve so entertaining in a low expectations kind of a way—in addition to our two rather likeable leads, that is—is just how believable it all is. With Big Brother monitoring our every move, mood, and transaction these days, Nerve (the video game) could be happening Right Here, Right Now. As someone near and dear to me explains: “We’re all aware on some level that our personal data is ‘out there,’ but most of us rationalize away our fears: ‘I’ve got nothing to hide,’ ‘they’ll go after people much richer or more famous than me,’ etc. And yet we can’t bring ourselves to stop using Google, Facebook, Amazon, SnapChat, Tumblr, and GPS on our phones, often simultaneously—that would be crazy. And yet… We are all vulnerable and our children grow up in a world where they are tracked, watched, and analyzed. All the time.”
     The plausibility of its scenario gives Nerve an unexpected edge. Watchers pay to watch, which funds the prize packages, but more than that the watchers film everything and egg the players on in a flash mob of peer pressure. And the film is so fast paced it’s hard not to get caught up in its delirium, like Vee does, always wanting more. We’re offered a minor back story about Vee’s dead brother and her dream of leaving Staten Island for a west coast art school, but this is mostly just to flesh out Vee’s conflicted good-girl image, worrying about her mom (Juliette Lewis) but wanting to show Sydney she’s no wimp.
     Dave (Franco, remember?) plays Ian, another daredevil Nerve player who helps Vee complete her first test (the kiss) and partners with her right till the colosseum-style Nerve ending.

(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth

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