Originally published on Flickering Myth on 05/12/16.
Surprisingly enough, Nerve’s an adaptation of a young-adult novel of the same name, which opts for contemporary world scares over some sort of future dystopia. And to its utmost credit, as an initial concept it takes off beautifully, flowering as an idea that’s simple and straight-forward enough to pull off sleekly, that’s frustratingly current, and one that makes for an exciting sandbox for the filmmakers in question to play about in. Sadly though, that’s about as far as its appeal as a film stretches, ending up as really nothing more than a great pitch on paper, executed poorly on the screen.
Catfish helmers Joost and Schulman certainly return to the internet world with plenty of tech-based flare though, building the world of the ‘Nerve’ game pretty neatly. As almost its own, hyper-active form of social media, the game certainly says a lot about the society it was made for and the price of internet fame, helped out a tad by some ever-so-slightly ironic YouTuber cameos.
There’s plenty of clever little hints like this throughout, that edge Nerve more towards social commentary than silly teen drama, but annoyingly, these only ever really seem to stay as hints, rarely actually being given the room to develop as they should. Joost and Schulman clearly had a stab at being current and meaningful, but somewhere along the line, they got lost with making a fun movie for teenagers instead. Understandable, I guess, but why couldn’t we have both?
After all, it’s only really when the directing duo drop all of the overlying, wider ideas that the film starts to sink considerably. It’s just about possible to make it through the ultra-gaudy Apple advert of an intro, or to suspend disbelief just enough to get on board with the fact that a (seemingly stupid) teenager would willingly give all of her online details, including banking information, to a shady online game she knows nothing about. But beyond that, it gets tough. Namely because it’s so annoyingly sanitised.
Maybe it’s just the fact that we live in a specifically post-Black Mirror world now (or that Nerve would definitely serve better as a more condensed episode of said show) but Joost and Schulman’s film feels weirdly plain for one with such a bold and dark idea. Roberts’s pretty useless Vee is chasing some sort of adrenaline high because her friends think she’s boring, but the things she actually does as part of the game are almost equally as vanilla as her past life. She hitches a ride with a mysterious pretty-boy on a motorbike into New York City, then seems fairly happy leaving it there, eventually deciding to reach the ‘dangerous’ heights of trying on an expensive dress, but only when she’s actually pushed by others to do it.
And then when Nerve finally does turn up the intensity a notch, and actually decides to put its characters’ lives in noticeable danger for a change, it very quickly backs down, essentially building up to a very, very lame pay-off several times over. Somewhere in the middle it even starts redirecting the game’s dares to be about bitchy teenage friendships instead, rather than the breakneck stunts the audience no doubt came for, questioning really whether or not Joost or Schulman actually knew what they were making in the long run.
It is a thriller? Is it a pointless teen drama? Does it really matter? Not really. Whilst Roberts and Franco are watchable enough, their supporting cast and the film’s plot itself are largely muddied over, making for a pretty shoddy watch that has its moments, but they’re all in the trailer. An honest shame because the potential was clearly there, Nerve just needed a lot more bravery in its execution to actually be worthwhile.
Nerve is out in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD now.