Fro contributing film critic Barry Levitt
Technology has advanced far beyond what anyone once thought possible. Through a mobile phone, one can access virtually anything, at any time. In lieu of this overwhelming possibility, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have directed Nerve, a film about the titular (and fictional) game, which holds the ability to change the lives of those who play it forever.
Vee (short for Venus, played by Emma Roberts) is a high school senior, whose big struggles in life include being beautiful, having an offer to CalArts University, and being the yearbook photographer. Her friendship group includes her more outgoing pal Sydney (Emily Meade), who is already playing Nerve. When Vee gets embarrassed because the school’s top athlete doesn’t want to date her, she decides to radically change the very makeup of who she is and start playing Nerve. The concept of the game is fairly ingenious – you are either a player, who participates by accepting dares to earn money, or a watcher, who pays (albeit a very expensive $19.99 for 24 hours) to watch people play the game. The game taps into various aspects of society that can be mined for great effect, such as the idea of the surveillance state, lack of privacy and security, and what people are willing to do to be noticed, all with a dash of teenage anxiety. However, the film seems more interested in ludicrous dialogue and a love story that never really sticks.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do a wonderful job of bringing a city to life. Streaks of neon emulsify from every conceivable direction, and mobile screens and the omnipresence of technology is dealt with well. Much of the action is seen through screens, with the voyeuristic effect and neon colour palette lending themselves well to the overall feel of the film.
Unfortunately, most of the problems in Nerve appear to stem from the screenplay. Character motivations swing wildly and unpredictably throughout the film, and Emma Roberts, capable as she is, cannot fix the problems her character has been indebted with. Playing opposite her is Dave Franco, who comes across more like a constantly smirking cut-out than an actual person. The dialogue is frequently laughable, and while some moments come across nicely, the inconsistencies plague the film from the start.
This is not to say the film is a disaster. Messy, yes, but much of it is oddly compelling. The largely house and synth soundtrack and the film’s gorgeous visual palette do well to keep the film pulsing with life, and there are a handful of sequences that live up to the film’s marketing as a thriller. Just when if feels like Nerve may have something to say, it veers off manically in the third act, abandoning any goodwill it built up with the audience. Opting for preachy, incomprehensible editing (bonus points for including the nerds spitting out technical jargon in place of any actual explanation cliché) squanders the film’s potential. While the script is often painful, it is expertly paced, resulting in a quick, fairly painless, yet ultimately forgettable experience.(2 / 5)
(Photos copyright:Allison Shearmur Productions, Keep Your Head, Lionsgate, Supermarche)