Stars: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis
Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Opening Date: Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
Ah, Truth or Dare: a game so symbolic of sweaty naiveté and hormonal teenage angst that it’s likely the preamble to almost every awkward first kiss story ever told. Whether the setting is in a dilapidated tree house with the ‘no girls allowed’ exception being made for a single night, a pop and chips birthday party or an elusive hiding spot in the recess yard, the game has gone down in history as a sure fire way to get yourself or your peers into some pretty precarious, romantic and sometimes even criminal scenarios.
If you’ve played the game (full disclosure: I did), we all know the truth questions are merely a segue into the far more important and interesting section of demands, i.e. the dares. Nerve, in the same light, serves as a fictional love letter to those more adventurous players among us, the kind who wish to skip the nonsense and divulge in a little bit of bad behavior from the get-go. Instead of some mild embarrassment or genuine badassery, the film features the root of all evil into the mix: money.
Nerve is a privacy invading phone-based application, where voyeurs enjoy some of their favorite personalities undertake sometimes innocent, sometimes dangerous dares at a steep price. Players can choose to sign up at any time at the start of a new season to play with the intent of winning outrageous amounts of money, celebrity and notoriety. In exchange, they must face some of their greatest mortal fears. A fair exchange, yes? Well, maybe.
Then along comes our hero, high school senior Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts), who finds herself victim to the aforementioned opulence and fame that comes from being a regular Nerve player. Although her character drives the story forward, she’s pretty cliché: a reserved artsy type with a meathead jock crush who ignores the potential in one of her sweet, nerdy best friends. She engages in the arguments, overbearing parents and all the joys of being an average teenager.
There were attempts made at giving her some nuance, but they failed. Attempts of character development fell flat during dialogue sequences. What was even more frustrating—things I won’t discuss her because of their spoil potential–was that things were stated and left stagnant, regardless of the fact that so much could have been done with them to further the dynamic between our two main characters.
Speaking of main characters, Vee’s newly acquired mysterious acquaintance, Ian (Dave Franco) is THE trademark cool guy. His aura and demeanor effortly emits a laid-back composure. He’s soft spoken, intelligent, dare-devilish, and chooses to go with the flow in the most mentally and physically challenging situations. Franco is such an epitomized type cast for the underlying shady cool guy that it almost feels like cheating, but I’ll let it slide because it is reprised in such a fantastic way yet again.
One thing the film didn’t cheat on was its dedication to provide a ceaseless stream of breathtaking shots. “WATCHING” these two star-crossed lovers journey through the illuminated cityscapes of New York looked drool-worthy. The cinematography oozed sleek stylistic prowess, which is so becoming of anything filmed in New York. Certain shot angles only emphasized particularly stressful dare situations, which made them feel that much more toe curling and goose bump shrouding as well. However, one thing I’ve grown quite tired of in general is translucent text messages between characters flooding the screen, with a plethora of out of touch emoji usages, social acronyms and relatable software and website displays. Nerve had the nerve to license actual software, which made it somewhat more redeemable, but I found it still ended up looking external rather than organic.
The soundtrack on the other hand, was outstanding and didn’t feel external to the setting or its characters in the slightest. An eclectic mix of new age rock, deep, melodic house and bombastic dubstep, it perfectly encapsulated the modern feel.
Returning now to the death-defying feel of the film, its biggest strength and its biggest weakness all the same. It was goddamn entertaining, and created an unparalleled thrill ride by in large, but it became apparent that there was a gross overreliance on thrills to make up for a lackluster, cliché high school character riddled plotline. That’s not to say there was an absence of plot; it wasn’t just a hangout movie on steroids by any means, but the first act felt like I was watching a teeny bopper coming of age story and its third act didn’t transfer very well, seemed too far-fetched and became a little too muddled together in its execution and scope. The finale didn’t fare well either, so coincidental that as an optimist, I’m willing to call it a damn near impossibility.
Nerve is an ambitious endeavor. It attempts to say so much in a very minimalistic way. Its themes of the non-existence of internet privacy and the evil, manipulating potential a vale of anonymity can produce in the hearts of otherwise normal people are poorly explored. In what could have been an unforgiving lesson to the dangers of youth who have an intravenous connection to social media at all times, Nerve instead panders to the action junky and the thrill seeker. Although I can’t recommend becoming a player, being a watcher isn’t what I’d call a bad idea if you’re looking for a passable popcorn flick. I give Nerve a 6.5 out of 10.