“Nerve” is a game of extreme sports and social media. The “players” film themselves doing a series of dares for money, and the more people watching them, the closer they are to being number one, a position that ironically guarantees nothing other than the empty stardom of fleeting viral attention.
Venus (Emma Roberts), a born watcher, throws caution to the wind for once in her life by becoming a player in the game. Nerve ropes her into a series of challenges alongside a fellow player (Dave Franco), and the stakes quickly rise.
Nerve is by no means the first adrenaline-junkie lottery film on the block. Indie-thrillers 13 Sins and Cheap Thrills have done it before and done it with a more gritty tone. Nerve is far more sanitized and glossy, which doesn’t seem to fit in with the inherent themes of such a premise.
The moral the film does pose is also glaringly miscalculated in that it can be viewed in opposing ways. This is not to say opposing ways in that it drums up a vigorous intellectual debate over the state of young people in the world, but that it is a contradicted moral.
While, to an older demographic, the film boasts a message that young people need to look away from their technology because it is desensitizing and inherently harmful, it is the opposite message for a younger audience. The game is depicted as exciting, life-changing almost all for the better save for certain highly improbable things.
When the film is broken down, even a little bit, the realism is shattered. The film’s muddy and superficial attempt at a moral is laughable by the end. A perpetuated and overblown fear of youth culture as a hotbed for desensitized views on violence is all it provides, and it does so with the nuance of an emoji. Given this, removing the moral message would have been the best scenario for Nerve.
Doing this alone would not have solved the film’s problems however. Nerve is very much a product of the time. A glossy soundtrack and the technology-heavy backdrop will be dated in a decade. The aesthetic of the film is over-reliant on neon colors and on-screen phone graphics that make it look gaudy. The characters are easily disliked; even the hero to an extent, given how squarely she fits into the nice-girl-doing-bad-things role that has always dominated teen movies.
Nerve has its moments of comedy, its moments of tension, its moments of tried compassion. Even the awkward chemistry between Roberts and Franco feels real at times. But, narratively, the film pulls on every string one would expect it to. Every character has the arc that you will predict he/she to have from scene one. For a film about pushing the limits, the film doesn’t take many chances.
At times visually grating, narratively by the numbers, and run with a bored sense of youth in revolt, Nerve is the most forgettable thriller you will see this Summer.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)