With all eyes being on mobile gaming apps at the moment, it seems to be the absolute perfect time for filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman to adapt Jeanne Ryan’s book Nerve, about an app that takes over New York City. Obviously, the massive popularity of the new Pokemon Go didn’t have anything to do with this film getting made, but it finds an opportune spot to latch onto some of the relevant buzz and maybe get some of those players and the already targeted tween audience and have audiences hitting that PokeStop within the Cineplex this weekend. I bet the studio is elated with the luck of their newest release or they should be because I can’t have been the only one to put those two things together.
Joost and Schulman are two directors who really hit the ground running with a sleeper hit, Catfish, a film that still acts as a mind twister to me today. Since then, the two had only made two more features, both Paranormal Activity films, the third and fourth movies. With the creepy worm infection thriller Viral on the horizon, the two look to move away from the franchise work that occupied them for a little bit and get refocused on stand-alone features, something that got them noticed in the first play. With Nerve, they definitely landed on something that is intriguing in subject matter with two stars that will bring just as much intrigue.
Nerve starts by establishing our lead character, Venus (Emma Roberts), who goes by the nickname, Vee. In a difficult point in her life and near the end of her graduation year, she is having a hard time telling her mother (Juliette Lewis) that she doesn’t want to accept her entrance into CalTech and instead wants to move away from home. This is all in an attempt to relieve herself of her shy insecurities, somewhat fueled by her flamboyant best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), and the constant reminder of her brother who had passed away two years earlier. When a social encounter with her high school crush goes horribly wrong, Vee decides to sign up for the new mobile game called Nerve, in an attempt to break free from her shell.
Introduced to her by Sydney, Nerve is a game of truth or dare, minus the truth. For money deposited directly into your bank account, the watchers of Nerve make dares to the players which begin slightly innocuously, then start to escalate in embarrassing situations, illegal activity and even life-threatening stunts. Starting out with her friend and computer hacker, Tommy (Miles Heizer), Vee eventually gets put right into the path of fellow Nerve player, Ian (Dave Franco), and the two are immediately paired for the dares from then on. It soon becomes apparent that there is no limit to the hardships Nerve will put the two through and the game looks to be a trap that no one will be able to escape from.
The premise of Nerve is very cool. With how locked in we are to our phones and all the apps involved within the iPhone store or Google Play store, it’s easy to believe that a game like this would be an obsession for all millennials out there. The film, for the most part, reflects this ingenuity as well and really embraces the technology in which it’s utilizing. We get shots from within the computer as we stare out at Vee as she signs up to play the game, as well as shots of her and Ian from other people’s phones throughout the film. There’s even some subtle play with corrupted images, something that frequents video feeds constantly, that I thought played very effectively.
For how fantastic the first hour is, the final half hour is absolutely dreadful, like Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman tripped over the laces of the flashy looking runners they put in place. What’s worse, they not only trip over those laces but they process to pull down the curtains and set the room on fire. It’s like the opening of The Dick Van Dyke Show, where the descent into catastrophe is one after the other and there’s no recovering. The story takes complete advantage of the leniency we gave for any preposterous plot angle and abuses it to the point that the film becomes laughable. Things are way too convenient and the actions become way too big to accept.
Unfortunately for Nerve, all of the good things in the film are on a level ground with all the bad things that hamper it, means whatever you will enjoy in this, something will inevitably come and turn that feeling around. It’s crazy to think that only twenty-five years of age, Emma Roberts is now a veteran actress but she brings none of that knowledge to this role. She plays the same type of character we’ve seen from her before, the bookish girl that gets caught up in a crazy plot. Dave Franco, on the other hand, is a fresh face to the leading man role and, no matter how annoyingly ridiculous his chiseled physique is (which had to be shown off at one point, just because), his charm is evident for why he was cast. The problem is that when the game stops being fun and becomes more life or death serious, these two have a hard time keeping their head above the dramatic water. This all runs into the lame soup the film turns into.
If Nerve can get enough of an ad campaign going and get into the minds of their target market, the tweens and younger adult crowd will eat this film up. It has everything on the surface to be appealing to the current generation and is shallowly satisfying. For me, the glaring contrast between the majority of the film and the third act are too much for me to overlook and make me disappointed that this is where the gifted storytellers of Catfish have landed after getting a profile boost from one of the top horror franchises, not to say that those are any good. Maybe there’s a great story to tell about our app-obsessed world, but this one is not it. A two and a half out of five.