Can a kinda dumb movie still be kinda dumb if it’s technically noice, neon-lit lovely and surprisingly charming? Nerve certainly does beg that question.
From the directors of the infamous Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost take a head-first dive through the bright underbelly of an internet thriller. The big NYC is their playground for a Pokemon Go meets 4Chan daredevil bloodsport of lunacy, where Vine star-like risk-takers play to pay their way to the top and anonymous cult elitist watchers are there to see it all unfold.
Where the film works is through its lunacy, with a liberal insensitivity to give the audience what they want. Nerve taps into that audience indulgence which worked for films like Unfriended and Hunger Games, where you fully acknowledge the shtick on screen could never really be implemented, but it hooks you with that curiosity on how far they’ll take the ball and roll with it. Doing this through smooth, neon-lit filmmaking that keeps your senses going, while being accurate with internet portrayal. Visuals that appeal to claustrophobia, fear of heights and ferocious traffic, while at the same time, there’s a live chat on the side with trolls saying “Pfft, whatta loooosar”. Teens using actual websites with their designs and sounds all in tact, while the War Games-like hacking slips in that just makes you giggle. Even fitting in a romance that is contrived, but never aims to be any more holy than it is. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco the clear standouts that just bloom with chemistry even despite unbelievable very-movie lines. Winning one over with charm than going for total grit the way of the film In Time, which had no right to be serious.
To like the film, there are certain conditions you have to abide by. While some contrivances can be looked over, there’s the occasional closing plot point or forced character connection that will cause deserved eye rolls. Where the other condition is ignoring potential for more hilarity, particularly in internet portrayal and its mob mentality. I would have loved more emphasis on the involvement of watchers and their love, even ironic mocking love, for the anonymous viewing spectacle. These crowds that build people up as icons and memes and adore the ability to be anybody, create anybody, and even tear them down. How they do this in the film is sidelined for the real people behind the screens doing these stunts, and giving watchers their token Guy Fawkes masks (which in reality would be replaced by Pepe). I would have appreciated more attention to this type of obscure, yet widespread phony-celebrity and niche-celebrity, and this kind of addiction that keeps people, simply don’t walk away. They touch on it briefly, but not enough for it to be surface-fun and deep.
Where does Nerve have the nerve to come in here and win a person over in spite of its flaws, ignoring the annoying trend of interesting concept movies, throwing their concept away for silly high school romance, making me feel genuinely anxious for these people doing stunts for cash? Dang it, Nerve, I need respect in the criticism world and stop making me smile!
Similarly to Scream 4 (2011), Nerve stars Emma Roberts, features a character named Sidney, and uses instant fame as a cautionary tale. In Scream 4 Emma Roberts also happens to star alongside co-star Dave Franco’s fiancé Alison Brie.