Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis
Released July 27th, 2016
Are you a Watcher or a Player?
Venus Delmonico (Emma Roberts) is not an adventurous person. She is content taking photographs of her crush J.P. (Brian Marc) for the school yearbook instead of chatting him up. Venus (Vee to her pals) is best friends with the outgoing Sydney (Emily Meade), an active player of the underground online game Nerve.
An amalgamation of Periscope and Pokemon Go, Nerve is a smart phone game described as “truth or dare without the truth” in which Players complete dares for monies from Watchers. After Sydney embarrasses Vee in front of J.P., Vee decides to show them all she’s no shrinking violet by signing up for Nerve as a Player.
When you join Nerve, the program accesses all of the information you’ve ever shared online, from your bank account to your Spotify and Amazon accounts, to any social media profile you’ve ever created. This way the game knows about you and Watchers can plan dares accordingly. Scared of heights? Guess what your first dare will be?
Vee’s first dare is to kiss a stranger in a diner. She chooses Ian, who is reading Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, her favorite book. The Watchers then ask Ian and Vee to team up for further dares.
Vee’s fellow wallflower pal Tommy (Miles Heizer), concerned about her safety, follows them with hopes of rescuing her from the grip of the game, and possibly Ian as well.
Rapper Machine Gun Kelly turns in a charismatic performance as Ty, a superstar Nerve player and chief antagonist of Vee and Ian. Vee’s mom Nancy (Juliette Lewis) is peripherally involved in the proceedings, but like the best stories for teens, the film is almost entirely devoid of parental oversight.
As Ian, Dave Franco shows off his horrible singing voice as well as his six pack abs, both of which should delight audiences for different reasons. Emma Roberts brings a naive sweetness to Vee, a character we root for from the moment we meet her. To say Dave and Emma have chemistry is an understatement. You believe their relationship, as much as you believe in the forces that are conspiring against them.
Cinematographer Michael Simmonds washes scenes in clouds of neon fantasy, making for a film that is always dizzyingly alive and moving. Rob Simonsen’s score perfectly captures the dreamlike imagery of being a teenager in New York City on the back of a motorcycle after midnight.
Nerve gets pretty silly toward the end, but this doesn’t damage the film’s message or impact. This is a smart film that deserves to be seen by anyone who spends too much time on their phone (I’m looking at you).
The fact that Nerve accesses your entire online history is brilliant and not too far off from reality. How much access of personal information are you allowing through programs you use on a daily basis? Have you ever read the Terms of Service on any app you’ve ever downloaded?
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have explored our relationship with the internet and unseen forces before, with their Paranormal Activity films (numbers 3 and 4) and their documentary Catfish. Nerve is without a doubt their best film, and one of the most intriguing films of the year.