Picture Truth or Dare meets Pokémon Go meets Facebook Live. Now, add in a healthy dose of teenage angst and unpredictability and you will have a sense of the game at the center of Nerve. As the stakes increase, the story hums like the neon Tron: Legacy-inspired lights that fill the frame. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's followup to Catfish tackles online anonymity from a different angle than their breakthrough documentary. Here, they are laser-focused on the 'Instafamous' phenomenon and the ways in which it can warp people's sense of self and blur the line between reality and fantasy.
First, the game. There are two types of participants--'Watchers' and 'Players.' Players broadcast their actions for the Watchers, who issue challenges to them. The Players have limited time to complete these challenges for cash prizes and as more money is on the line, the challenges get more complicated and more dangerous.
Venus "Vee" Delmonico (played by Emma Roberts) is a high school senior trying to determine what to do with her life. Pressured by friends, she winds up signing up to play Nerve and choosing to be a 'Player.' Her first challenge is to kiss a stranger for five seconds. She kisses Ian (played by Dave Franco) and the Watchers like them as a pair, so they start to give them challenges they can complete together.
From streaking out of a store to motorcycle stunts, Vee and Ian win more and more money as a team. But when the stakes get too high, they look for a way out of the game. And because going to the police is against the rules, they have to figure out how to get out on their own.
Structurally, the film works fairly well. Though some may disagree about the effectiveness of its Act III resolution, the majority of the film builds in a way that makes sense. It also allows Vee and Ian to grow together even though most of the film takes place in a single evening. Franco and Roberts enjoy a natural chemistry from the early frames, which makes it appealing to multiple types of viewers.
Our anonymity online is of course a timely topic, with many wondering where we go from here. The film made me wonder whether there will be a retreat from this burgeoning 'living online' trend or whether we will forever move in that direction. At one point, a character even says of Vee, "it doesn't count if she doesn't record it." A commentary on our obsession with being seen, but not necessarily a full-throated critique. One of the virtues of the film is that it presents the internet as magnifying humanity, rather than changing it. The best and the worst of us always exists and the internet simply creates more extreme versions of each. Getting strangers to sing to each other in public is fun; getting them to shoot each other in public is less so.
Though not perfect, it is better than bad. It overcomes some forced dialogue and inane plot points by sheer force of charm and fun. It also benefits from the perfect backdrop for this kind of 'sandbox' experience--New York City. This thrill ride is too timely not to be a crowd pleaser. Its themes are in our every day life and it really isn't hard to imagine that this is happening somewhere right now. That it manages to entertain and to comment in such a teen-friendly package makes it a worthwhile entry into Joost and Schulman's filmography.
If you like our content, please SHARE using the buttons below and SIGN UP for our monthly newsletter to stay up to date on the latest!