Nerve

Nerve

2016, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Colson Baker, Juliette Lewis, Marc John Jeffries.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 29, 2016

This Dark Web thriller has a nifty premise: an interactive online game in which its adrenaline-kick participants accept increasingly dangerous challenges at the bidding of the anonymous voyeur-participants posing them. (The dangling carrot of prize money for live-streaming the stunt’s performance is an added incentive for a cash-strapped player when the stakes are high.) It’s a cyberspace variation on the party pastime “Truth or Dare,” except there’s no option to honestly answer a squirmy question in lieu of a provocative dare. Although slow out of the gate in establishing the interpersonal dynamics of a group of Staten Island high school seniors, the movie starts to buzz when the shy and slightly insecure Vee (Roberts) accepts the watchers’ challenge to kiss a stranger in public (Franco) for a hundred dollars. The experience is intoxicating for both of them – and you – as the risks they undertake crazily escalate (driving a motorcycle blindfolded at a high speed, for example) with each more lucrative round of the game. Until its heady but hard-to-swallow resolution, this heart-thumper lives up to its name. For filmgoers over a certain age, the idea of anyone completely immersing him- or herself, either as a player or a watcher, in a potentially life-threatening techno-diversion as the one depicted here may sound far-fetched. But for the PG-13 crowd hardwired to the internet, Nerve will jangle with a resonating and perhaps unpleasant truth. This movie taps into the plugged-in zeitgeist in a big way. Today, young people use cell phones to spot virtual Pokémons while driving, spend hours obsessively clicking “like” on postings of Facebook friends they barely know, and go online to watch others play video games rather than engage in the actual activity themselves. And that’s just the tip of the World Wide Web iceberg. It’s a brave new world that Aldous Huxley never imagined.

The finale of Nerve plays like a gladiator fight to the death in Rome’s Colosseum, with the not-so-passive watchers voting their thumbs up or thumbs down with the swipe of a screen. Directors Joost and Schulman (who helmed the 2010 documentary Catfish) generate some real thrills up to this point, so the film’s ambitious but untidy conclusion (“Say what?”) disappoints. Don’t try to sort it out afterward; your brain will only freeze up. It’s best to remember the preceding wild ride made all the more pleasurable by the winning turns by the leads. Up until now, Roberts and Franco have been second-tier actors in the industry food chain, but their first-rate performances in this better-than-average genre flick exude something called charisma. After this film, the two of them may graduate from watchers to players.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Henry Joost Films
Paranormal Activity 4
Five years after the end of PA3, things are still going bump in the night.

Marc Savlov, Oct. 26, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3
Turns out that the third time is the charm: This one delivers the jolts with subtlety and brio.

Marc Savlov, Oct. 21, 2011

More by Steve Davis
Moffie
Brutality and sexual awakening in Apartheid-era South Africa

April 9, 2021

F.T.A
The suppressed anti-Vietnam war cabaret finally hits the spotlight

March 12, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Nerve, Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Colson Baker, Juliette Lewis, Marc John Jeffries

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle