Friday 19 March 2021

Movie Review: Nerve (2016)

A teen-oriented thriller, Nerve explores the exhilarating excitement and lurking risks of the online world.

In Staten Island, Vee (Emma Roberts) is approaching her high school graduation with a reputation for playing it safe. She cannot gather up the courage to talk to her crush, and does not dare express to her protective mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis) her desire to accept a position at a California college. In contrast, Vee's best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) is an outgoing vivacious cheerleader.

Seeking to break out of her shell, Vee joins the Nerve on-line game, where Players earn money and ranking points by completing dares posed to them by Watchers. She teams up with fellow Player Ian (Dave Franco), and the initial dares are easy and harmless enough. But as the couple climb the rankings and gain Watchers, Vee is sucked in by the thrill and euphoria. The dares become more dangerous, a serious rift develops with Sydney, and Vee realizes she is stuck in a deadly serious situation.

The smooth addictiveness of social media, whether to anonymously view and like content or create, influence and gain followers and notoriety, receives appropriately glitzy treatment. Jessica Sharzer's script, adapting Jeanne Ryan's book, is often clever and always brisk, quickly setting the premise then unleashing madness through the events of one night, highlighting the baffling speed of fame in the digital age.

After the initial rush and once Vee and Ian pair up, Nerve does hit a dull-ish middle, where the dares are samey, Vee and Ian zooming on his motorcycle this way then that, and some antics consuming an inordinate amount of screen time. Dares then creep into dances with death, and Nerve clunkily shifts moods into suspense territory. 

Although the world of teenagers can be a succession of emotional whiplashes, Sharzer handles human relationships with less elegance than the digital metaphors. The friendship between Vee and Sydney oscillates wildly, while quiet hacker Tommy (Miles Heizer), who has a secret crush on Vee, is emotionally stranded for most of the film. Vee's mom is equally abandoned in frazzled territory, Juliette Lewis wasted in the role.

But dazzling visuals compensate for the lack of human depth. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman play on two artistic scales, mainly deploying a slick and polished nighttime look with tech overlays to meld the digital and real worlds. But they also occasionally revive 1990s early internet era signposts, including font styles, crude graphics, boxy monitors, robo voices, and spam pop-up ads, all enhancing the diabolism of a cobbled-together open-source dark web game with no central control.

Nerve roars towards a hastily packaged but still potent call to re-discover the humanity obscured by keyboard anonymity. It's an audacious idea, but also an almost quaint call to roll back time.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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