It’s fast paced, at turns funny and thrilling, and keeps you guessing. Nerve has verve. But not quite enough.
The story pitches New York teenager Vee (Emma Roberts) a bright but conservative senior high school student, into a wildly popular social media game called Nerve. Her friends goad her for not taking risks in her life, so she enters Nerve as a Player, whereby she is challenged by Watchers of the game to undertake dares and win money. She meets fellow Player Ian (Dave Franco) and the pair embark on an increasingly dangerous series of dares that keep them flitting across New York city over one night. The dares are well conceived, at first comical and then genuinely eye squintingly flinching. Let’s just say the writers make good use of the altitude afforded by setting a story in a city of skyscrapers.
All the while Vee and Ian’s exploits are followed and filmed and broadcast by various watchers of the game. So the pair have their adventure in the public eye, courtesy of more iphones than you could shake a selfie stick at. And the film makers take the smartphone screen and use its imagery to tell the tale on the cinema screen. It’s a clever use of computer graphics (on a vamped up scale to that employed by The Shallows the other week)
Throughout, Roberts and Franco make an engaging couple. They certainly have acting pedigree, Roberts being the niece of Julia, and Franco the brother of James. The rest of the cast are on the money, although their chatracters are somewhat clichéd: Vee’s geeky friend who wants to be her boyfriend, the more rebellious girlfriend with a heart of gold, the worried mother…
The big question which comes to mind is: how realistic is the story? And at times I struggled with this, to the point where it became distracting. The watchers provide almost blanket coverage of Vee and Ian, always in broadcast quality sound. Unlikely. No one’s phone ever goes flat. Really? The way the dares are coordinated and delivered to the contestants suggests there is some controlling power behind all this, rather than a random collection of people playing a game en masse on their smartphones. Seems unlikely. Several dares stretch credulity, which is fair enough, but one involving a ride on a motorbike was less unlikely, and more impossible.
Nerve clearly sets out the perils of social media whereby peer pressure and surveillance combine to form a deadly formula. For this, the film makers deserve great merit. And you get the feeling you might be in for a dark and memorable ending, one befitting such a sharp but entertaining commentary on modern digital life. That’s not the case. The finale certainly has a twist and a surprise, but in an entertainment age where viewers of Game of Thrones and other shows know to expect the unexpected, the landing here is on safer Hollywood ground. Worth seeing? Yes, but it might have been YES.