Nerve delivers 80s thrills in modern fashion
Nerve is a film with a killer concept and even better execution.
Part nonstop adrenaline rush/part social commentary on insta-fame and Internet mob mentality, Nerve is smarter than the typical teen thriller.
Vee (Emma Roberts) wants to enroll in an arts college to pursue her love of photography. Only problem is she hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell her mother (Juliette Lewis) she doesn’t want to go to a local college in New York. Ditto for even speaking to her secret crush.
After being prodded by her best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), for never taking risks, Vee signs up to play Nerve. The secret online game is the latest fad for voyeurs and adrenaline junkies. Players get paid for doing random acts proposed by watchers like kissing a stranger to singing in a diner. Those who want a crack at winning the game take ever more escalating and life-threatening challenges.
Vee encounters Ian (Dave Franco, Now You See Me 2), a fearless veteran Nerve player. The watchers like the pairing and have them partner throughout the night. Franco has a default mischievous look that serves him well here and he glides into the leading man role smoothly. Roberts, who helped make Scream Queens must-see TV, with her portrayal of a horrid sorority girl, is just as solid as the good girl flirting with her wild side.
Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer adapts Jeanne Ryan’s novel with a snappy script that makes the characters relatable and charming — not an easy feat for a teen movie. That’s especially evident in how Meade has more to do than simply being the jealous best friend. Or Miles Helzer’s Tommy, who tries to help Vee beat Nerve.
Rapper Machine Gun Kelly (Beyond the Lights) has a strong cameo as top tier Nerve player Ty. MGK has an undeniable charisma and an air of mystery to him making Ty an explosive wildcard.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman capture the excess of a 80s film within a contemporary setting. While they’re not gorging on cocaine and wild parties, the thrill of Internet fame proves in some ways equally intoxicating and damaging. They take social media access to the next level with everyone potentially being a Nerve user. And like a 80s film, Joost & Schulman make the fun and high stakes tempting right until the moment the bottom falls out.
Michael Simmonds cinematography aids in that bright lights, big city presentation with some fantastic shots above and below the New York skyline.
From their experience directing Paranormal Activity 4, the duo knows how to rattle viewers with a POV camera angles to let the tense moments linger well past the comfort level. They make the dares nerve-wracking even if there’s rarely a negative consequence. That’s the one issue with the film. There needed to be more to discourage impressionable audience wannabees from trying this at home.
Joost & Schulman creatively tackle the film’s reliance on mobile devices with mirrored looks at the screen, character check-ins via a map style display and frequent phone perspectives of the action. Nerve isn’t the first film to bring the ADHD feel of social media to the big screen, but it’s one of the better presentations.
In a season filled with one disappointment after another, Nerve might just prove to be the surprise of the summer. I dare you to see it and not be entertained.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise/Lionsgate Publicity
Here’s some other recent teen theme drama/thrillers I’ve reviewed: