Nerve (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: In order to keep up with her popular friend, a high-school senior named Vee (Emma Roberts) decides to partake in a program called Nerve: a high-stakes game of online Truth or Dare….minus the Truth.

REVIEW: Six years after brilliantly blurring the line between veracity and fraudulence in the TV-show inspiring faux-doc-thriller CATFISH, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have pried themselves away from the exhausting third and fourth legs of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise in order to strike up NERVE – a poignantly premised but unfruitfully promised millennial, multimedia techno-thriller. Adapted from the Jeanne Ryan novel with a slick MTV editing style, wall-to-wall contemporary pop hits and a candy-colored array of neon lighting – NERVE is sure to resonate far greater among teenage filmgoers than the older crowd, particularly in pandering to the puerile "hey look at me" scourge of today's social media climate that has utterly subsumed our youth. Intentional or not, what this movie says about the current state of celebrity, popularity, the price of fame and what constitutes identity is far more alarming than anything actually depicted in the film itself. For that, the movie is somewhat condonable. As for the rest, NERVE can't quite conjure the courage its named after.

Vee Demonico (Roberts) is a moderately popular high-school senior who, along with her single mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis), still mourns the untimely death of her older brother, Mike. Having just been accepted to but too afraid to reply to Cal Arts, Vee confides her reluctance in best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), an even more popular cheerleader alpha-gal without a single scruple in her heart and mind. Sydney introduces Vee and her geeky dark-web confined sidekick Tommy (Miles Heizer) to a new game called Nerve, a viral online phenomenon in which people make money by completing extremely dangerous dares. The game is divided into three parts: Players and Watchers, and if you snitch by going to the police at any point during the game, you become a Prisoner. The only way to escape being a prisoner is to win the game. To win, you must outduel a fellow high-ranking daredevil. When more or less bullied by Sydney to experience life rather than observe it, Vee decides to become a Nerve Player. Her first dare? To kiss a stranger in public. The reward? A hundred bucks.

This introduces us to Ian (Dave Franco), a hunky top-ranked Nerve Player who seems to take an instant shine to Vee. Or is it by design? The two leave Tommy behind and whisk away to a swanky NYC department store for their next dare. They must try on unaffordably expensive outfits and dash out of the store undetected. They succeed, get paid, then parade around the city on a series of escalating dares, all the while culling more and more internet eyes (Watchers) and virally shared comments. Vee is upping her popularity quotient, and getting paid in doing so. But really, at what price. She not only enters a nasty row with Sydney over who has higher standing in the eyes of the Watchers, she increasingly puts herself in places of peril. Motorcycling blindfolded, walking across two buildings on a ladder, potential murder…all for the comfort of being liked. Not that these are only gormless and juvenile to partake in, they're never really made all that terrifying or consequential simply due to the fact that most of the movies action takes place over the course of one night. With that limited scope, it's almost impossible to really get to know who Vee is, much less a deep-seeded reason to care for her cause and root for her triumphs. Even if she was subjected to harrier dares, we don't spend enough time with Vee from the onset to really give a damn about her outcome.

What I did quite enjoy about the film – aside from the novel but not so far-fetched premise of the Nerve game itself – are the salient questions raised regarding the price of fame, the current voyeur culture we all live in, the need to be looked at, liked, witnessed, validated…and how unsettling the trend of living in a virtual world over reality is increasingly becoming. No privacy. A perfect real-life parallel of this sort of mass-zeitgeist-appeal is Pokemon Go, which I couldn't help but think about when seeing hordes of young New Yorkers collectively playing Nerve in the film. Worse yet, since the end of the movie makes the case that, to voyeuristically film a crime in real time and broadcast on the internet for all the world to see is tantamount to being an accessory to said crime, it's hard not to think of the endless cell-phone videos of police officers shooting unarmed minorities. If NERVE, however aimed toward kids, can spark a discussion in this area of society, then it could be far more substantial than the silly surface story may otherwise appear. Unfortunately, unless the discussion is struck by the teenagers intended to see this film, who knows how much of note will change for the better.

Subtext aside though, as an outright techno-thriller, the single refrain that kept on resounding in my head while watching was: I'm too old for this shit. Really, this falls into the "flicks are for kids" category, no doubt bound to appeal most to the teenage crowd sure to be live Tweeting and Periscoping while watching. For the more seasoned, the dares don't come off as all that unique, enthralling or even all that mortifying. Dumb and dangerous, yes, but trading kisses and lifting dresses doesn't exactly incite a fit of rousing terror…at least not the kind you expect from a legit genre piece. And again, since the characters aren't given enough time to develop or fully reveal who they are, the stakes, despite raising to murder, never feel all that precarious. Or earned. In fact, the ramifications in the end feel a bit of a copout that lack the courage of its convictions of its gladiatorial finale. No, the major merit of NERVE is its potentially prescient premise of the game itself and how unnerving to think how not so far off it may be from happening in reality. Kind of like THE PURGE.




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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.