tue 25/02/2020

Nerve | reviews, news & interviews



A fast ride through the dark side of the internet

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco as Vee and Ian, taking it to the limit

Coinciding with both Pokémon Go madness and a developing backlash against the insidious modern plague of mobile gadgets, Nerve is a moral fable for the social media era, and a Cinderella story that turns into The Hunger Games. Luckily, it's much more fun than that makes it sound.

The movie's title is also the name of an online game in which players undertake increasingly risky dares while being egged on (via a mobile phone app) by unseen controllers. These have access to all the participants' various sources of online information (Facebook, Instagram, whatever), which they use to exploit the hopes and fears of the players while an anonymous horde of watchers follows their escapades live on their screens. The more outlandish the challenges which the players complete, the more money they earn.

Among the watchers is Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts), who's constantly taunted for her shyness by her exhibitionist friend and high-scoring Nerve player Sydney (Emily Meade). For instance, Sydney thinks nothing of bending over and flashing her bare bottom while she's cheerleading for the school football team, or farting in the faces of complete strangers. After Syd publicly humiliates Vee with a boy she has been too timid to talk to, Vee flings her inhibitions aside and signs on to Nerve as a player.

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who made 2010's bizarre social-networking "documentary" Catfish, this is a slick and canny piece of work (based on a novel by Jeanne Ryan) that ingeniously weaves all manner of online feeds and digital imagery into its narrative without it feeling clunky or superfluous, while also creating plausible characters who carry some real dramatic weight. Roberts excels as Vee, an introverted (at first, anyway) high school senior who lives with her mother Nancy (a careworn Juliette Lewis, pictured above) in a drab tower block on Staten Island. Vee wants to leave New York to study at college in California, but is worried about upsetting her mother, who's still devastated by the death of Vee's older brother. 

Vee's dramatic escape from her chrysalis of shy conformity arrives when she accepts a dare to "kiss a stranger for five seconds". The stranger she picks is a guy called Ian (Dave Franco), and their first encounter goes so well that the game's unseen controllers pair them off for a sequence of escalatingly crazy stunts, like "liberating" a daringly sparkly $5000 dress from Bergdorf Goodman, or Vee guiding Ian as he drives a speeding motorcycle through Manhattan while blindfolded (Vee and Ian go shopping, below).

Roberts captures Vee's euphoria and elation as she begins to throw off her imaginary restraints and begins to breathe freer, more exciting air. Franco has Ian's daredevil-with-a-dark-side ambience down to a tee. But success brings more pressure to perform, and as the ante is progressively upped, the going gets nastier. The watchers begin to morph into a sinister baying mob, demanding ever more dangerous and sensational stunts from the participants, with a death or two looking distinctly possible. The parallels with vengeful Twitter swarms spewing anonyous bile are too obvious to miss.

The final chunk of the film loses some impetus as the story has to be chopped and channelled towards a defined ending, and the way Vee's nerdy but loyal friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) gallops heroically in from stage left in the final reel could have done with a subtlety transplant. But behind its teen-adventure trappings, Nerve delivers fast-food for thought in these crazed digital days.

The watchers begin to morph into a sinister baying mob, demanding ever more dangerous and sensational stunts


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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