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‘Nerve’ Dares To Examine The Thrills Of Social Media (Movie Review)

nerve thumbThe central idea of Nerve is one that sounds both ridiculous and completely accurate, based on the society of today. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (of Catfish fame) have taken a script by Jessica Sharzer, adapted from a YA novel by Jeanne Ryan and developed a high school kids-focused thriller that doubles as social commentary. The results ride the line of plausibility, but there is something to admire in how the style keeps things moving and the premise holds together, despite not finding the best solutions as the stakes get higher.

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Emma Roberts stars as Vee (short for Venus), a smart high school senior who is brought into the world of Nerve. Neve is an online game that challenges players to a series of dares, while others watch. The rules are a mix of clever ideas and vague understandings of how things could actually work, but just take it on faith that Vee gets it and winds up in New York City with Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow player.

The film is not above having Vee question the nature of a game like this and supplies the audience with some recognition of characters aware enough to wonder why anyone would do anything like this. Fortunately, there are some decently handled means of getting the characters to the places and points of absurdity required of them for the narrative to basically work. It is only when the film arrives at the third act that an appreciation for seeing a game like this in action comes at some ridiculous costs.

For whatever reason, while it is one thing to see a game like this take place, a film has to provide some kind of cinematic challenge to the authority and get to the proverbial man behind the curtain. I could have done with a lot less of Vee’s friends struggling to find the truth behind Nerve and launch into tech talk about the dark internet and back channels that help reveal who is behind everything. Obviously the film needs to have some sort of climax, but more ambiguity concerning the central conceit would have been welcome.

Nerve works best when it focuses on the adventures of Roberts and Franco, who both appear to be having fun with each other and in their involvements concerning the various stunts they pull. Definitely keeping in mind the audience this film is intended for, Joost and Schulman have the right kind of eye that calls to mind something like the Crank films, but with a lot more neon and alternative rock/electronic soundtrack choices. This is a very uncrowded New York, save for all the kids with phones (that rarely, if ever, need to be charged, despite watching streaming video all day). That is certainly an aspect that shows how stylized the film is, but it helps keep the focus alive.

Clearly the film has plenty to say concerning social media, but the smart play is to have the filmmakers and the characters really seem to understand what that sort of obsession (or whatever one calls it) means. While Sharzer’s screenplay doesn’t allow for too much insightful thought in its final minutes, as people are too busy making grand statements, the work done before easily highlights the drive many (mainly millennials and younger) seem to have about gaining followers and seeking viral internet fame. It may be taken to an extreme based on the premise of this film and Vee’s interactions with her Nerve-obsessed best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), but the attitudes feel authentic.

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The film also works for wanting to be fun and exciting, without going to dark extremes. Yes, stakes get to a life or death point, as far as certain reveals near the end, but the film was clearly made to engage a younger audience. Whether or not that audience takes away any sort of epiphany concerning the nature of technology is a different point, but there is certainly something to be said for a movie that comments on what the intended audience is so heavily involved with already. There is also the risk of the film dating itself pretty easily, but as far as enjoying the film on a ‘right here, right now’ level, Nerve does enough to succeed.

Enjoy the film for what it manages to pull off. Have a good time witnessing the chemistry between Roberts and Franco. Dig the sense of style and understanding of high school kids through the lens of the filmmakers. Nerve uses the power of escapism to depict a possible reality as far as the future of social media is concerned and makes that a mostly enjoyable feature.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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