Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s Nerve manages to studiously cast an eye over so many facets of modern society and our relationship with technology, through the made-up online game of Nerve. Working as a catalyst of sorts, we then use this tool to explore the immediacy of the net, and how we share content with one another. It also digs into the notion of an internet celebrity and the uncompromising craving to be considered as one, not to mention the sheer danger of trolling, and how hiding behind the invisibility the internet provides doesn’t shelter us from culpability. Though a flawed film, there’s certainly a pertinent, important message to this unique slice of contemporary cinema.
The premise to the game Nerve is simple: you’re either a watcher or a player. If the former, you merely login, donate money, and watch on as people around the city complete dares for cash – only considered to be completed if captured on camera. If you’re the latter, however, you’re tasked with completing such dares – and that’s what Vee (Emma Roberts) is encouraged to sign up as, having been criticised for not being adventurous enough by her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Vee’s first dare is to kiss a stranger, and it’s here she meets Ian (Dave Franco). After completing what was asked of her, it transpires that Ian is also a player of the game, and the pair start taking on dares between them, building up a noteworthy following of watchers, pushing them towards a spot in the final two – where there can only be one winner.
Nerve casts an eye over our ever-changing relationship with social media, using real-life tools as a means to explore it. But when doing so and unwittingly subscribing to that commitment to reality and authenticity, deviating away can leave the viewer feeling somewhat cold and disengaged, which is exactly what happens here. To make its point we lose touch with reality, and suddenly a game and concept that at one stage seemed so plausible – a device which enriches the audience’s investment in the narrative tremendously – seems absurd, and the over-elaborate conclusion that descends into sheer inanity seeks only in alienating the viewer, just when the film needs them most.
Nonetheless, there remains more than enough to admire about this film, particularly in the prevalent sense of darkness that exists throughout, as we adopt tropes of the thriller genre to tell this tale – and while it’s unlikely to be a film that stands the test of time, given the themes explored and rapid nature we’re progressing in real life from a technological standpoint, it’s worth seeking out while it’s still relevant. In the meantime, and despite the evident dangers of the game of Nerve, is it wrong that I still want to download it?