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Movie Review: Nerve

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Certificate 15, 96 minutes

Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Stars: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade

Nerve is based on the young adult book (young adult books tend to be really grim; that's possibly a symptom of something) of the same name by Jessica Sharzer. It is set in the year 2020 for some reason (it would work just as well today; there aren't any advances in technology really needed, so why it is set in the future isn't clear). Venus - "Vee" to her friends (Emma Roberts, Scream 4, We're the Millers) - is a senior in the last year of high school in Staten Island, New York. It opens with her using her computer, where she has apparently received an admission letter to CalArts (she seems to be a talented photographer) which she needs to respond to within 24 hours to keep her place. Although she would like to go, she hasn't had the nerve to tell her mother, Nancy (Juliette Lewis), about it, as they lack the money for her to go. Instead, she's going to go to a local community college on a scholarship and live with her mother - her older brother would appear to have died.

Nerve
Vee's best, female, friend, Syd (Emily Meade), tells the former about this game called Nerve in which Syd is competing. She wants Vee to sign up as a Watcher to help boost her chances of winning. There are different rounds, and this one is being held in New York, and there can be only one winner. There are two types of people in the game, Players and Watchers. Watchers pay money to watch their favourite players, and come up with dares for them to do. Some of these are quite simple, like eat dog food. Players do the dares and make money, but dares can be failed or bailed from. Dares have to be filmed using the Player's own phone. The only other rule is that you can't tell the authorities about the game.

Vee has a reputation of never having the nerve for doing anything outside her comfort zone, and she needs money. When Syd pushes her, Vee goes in a different direction and signs up as a Player, not a Watcher. At which point Nerve downloads all her public information and, by the looks of it, hacks some, maybe all, of her private information as well, to build her Nerve profile. Vee's first dare is to go to diner and kiss a stranger for five seconds. Her other best friend, Tommy (Miles Heizer), accompanies her to the diner, but he's rather less happy about this. Tommy is more familiar with the darker side of the internet, and has heard rumours that someone died playing the round of the game in Seattle the previous year.

At the diner, Vee picks the guy reading her favourite book, Ian (Dave Franco), whilst Tommy uses her phone to film it, making her an easy one hundred dollars. Then Ian gets up and starts singing and dancing, for Ian is playing Nerve as well. His next dare is to take Vee into the city; hers is to go with him for $200. Although Vee had only intended to do one dare, she agrees to this one too and joins Ian on his motorcycle. In the city, she has to try on a $3,995 dress. In the same shop she meets Ian again, who also had to try on some clothing. Whilst they are doing this, another player steals their clothes and money. Vee and Ian's next dare is to leave the store for $2,500. Which they do, although they leave the clothes behind. Fortunately there are some new clothes on Ian's motorbike.

By this point, the total number of Watchers that Vee has is increasing rapidly, and Syd starts to get a bit jealous. At this point, Vee and Ian's next dare ramps up the risk. He has to ride his motorcycle blindfolded and get up to 60 miles per hour, whilst Vee acts as his eyes, for $10,000. They do this but things start to get steadily darker. Vee is out in front of the camera for once, rather than behind it, and the lure of celebrity starts to change her. In a matter of hours, she has become recognisable to thousands of strangers who film her actions. In an argument, Vee damages her relationships with her two best friends, and tries to get out of the game.

Only, you can't, and once you try to snitch to the authorities, the game owns you. There is no-one to confront over the game; it runs on the devices of everyone watching or playing, and there aren't any single group of people behind it. Instead, it's a vast, diversified network of anonymous users who make more and more dangerous dares on a programme that runs on every device using it. The only interaction is through an artificial electronic voice, although Watchers - usually with their faces masked - provide things for the dares. What starts out with some low-key, easy dares becomes something much more frightening and dangerous. Nerve also seems to have substantial control over devices. It's easy to see why someone may have actually died from playing the game.

Some of the film is seen from various mobile devices, those of Players and those of Watchers, whilst other parts are viewed from behind the screens of devices themselves. The rest is filmed normally. On a number of occasions, often when it is being viewed from behind the screen, there are comments from the Watchers on what is going on and suggestions for dares. These messages are sometimes disturbing; deliberately so. Vee's actions in the film resemble, to more than a little degree, addiction. She starts out with the intention to do one dare, then does another, and as the money and fame rolls in starts doing increasingly more dangerous and risky dares.

Like many films about teenagers, Hollywood shows its common aversion to having teenagers in a film be played by actual teenagers. The stars are often quite a lot older than the characters they are playing. Tommy is the obvious shy genius tech-nerd who has a crush on Vee, but hasn't told her, making him a rather too stereotypical character. Syd is the rather shallow best friend, pretty, popular and a cheerleader, and is also a bit stereotypical. Ian is more of a mystery; he seems nice enough, but not much is known about him. This is deliberate.

The characters might not have much in the way of depth, but the film is fast-paced and involving, from a slow beginning it ramps up the tension from the simple "kiss a stranger" to the potentially lethal "drive through the streets blindfolded at 60mph." As well as the dares done by Vee, there are glimpses of some done by others. In many ways, the game of Nerve is all too believable. The pressure of a social network combined with instant internet fame get quickly out of control, and when people are anonymous, and don't have to take credit for their actions, what they are willing to do, or encourage, becomes much more extreme. The computer programme Nerve itself doesn't come up with the dares; the Watchers vote on them, and they know everything that is in a Player's Nerve profile. Which includes their fears. Too much information is available freely for the taking, and this film shows an extreme to which that knowledge could be taken. Nerve is a fairly dark film that does keep the viewer guessing, as to whether it's going to go as dark as it could be, or whether a way will be found to get out of the game.
Nerve egdcltd 2016-08-18 3.5 0 5
3.5/5
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