With most of the world dividing its time between Pokemon Go and sharing viral videos on Facebook, there’s never been a better time for a film like Nerve.
Based on a book by Jeanne Ryan, adapted by Jessica Sharzer of American Horror Story, and directed by Catfish’s Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, the film quickly establishes its technological mojo.
Opening on the image of a Mac login screen, we zoom headlong into the semi-transparent world of digital media. Emails, Facebook likes, and Spotify combine to introduce us to our protagonist, Vee (Emma Roberts), a meek Staten Island high school senior with a clingy mum (played by Juliette Lewis), an interest in photography, and a crush on the captain of the football team.
Her best friends are the more outgoing, fur-adorned Sydney (Emily Meade), to whom she’s eternally stuck as sidekick, and quiet hacker Tommy (Miles Heizer), who has unrequited feelings for Vee. Sydney is a “Player” of the titular online/real world video-game, performing dares in return for cash prizes and, with her rapid ascent up the rankings, the promise of some mysterious final prize.
Though more of a “Watcher” by nature — the group who pay to observe the players — Vee nevertheless takes a risk and finds herself with fame and the promise of a fortune, and a partner in fellow “Player”, Ian (Dave Franco), whose motorbike becomes their primary means of travel around the neon-lit city-scape.
However, what begins a series of harmless, even amusing, pranks — mandatory snogging and public nudity — quickly escalates into ever more dangerous stunts. The rule that all dares must be filmed results in some truly nail-biting found-footage-style videos, effective if only in so far as we desire to avoid to seeing angst-y young people falls of buildings, get creamed by trains, etc.
Combine that with an incessant electro-pop soundtrack, though, and Nerve begins to feel a lot like a music video; one aimed squarely at the YA demographic. Roberts makes for a likeable enough, if slightly bland, protagonist and Franco is a more than watchable, winningly goofy antidote to his older brother.
The film seemingly sets out to say something about modern celebrity culture — a montage of serious accidental injuries is met by the remorseless in-app blare of “Fail” — but it segues off into an unconvincing conspiracy that is never satisfyingly resolved. Also, the smiling approbation of everyone them is a little unconvincing. These folks are supposed to be New Yorkers, right?
Ultimately, Nerve, which is ostensibly about personal accountability, fails to account for its own leaps in logic. The film has an intriguing premise and it’s certainly a rush, but I can’t help but feel that it bottled out on something a bit more insightful.