With Pokemon Go gripping countless thousands while its popularity bewilders everyone else, the idea of an on-line game like Nerve existing is simply horrifying yet oddly plausible, and that’s what runs through your mind throughout the whole of the film.
Based on a popular 2012 young adult novel by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve is an on-line game described as something like Truth or Dare but without the Truth. Players sign up and are given a dare by those who watch. Those who play and complete the dare are rewarded with payment. When Vee (Emma Roberts) signs up and is given her first dare, it’s a simple one. She’s to kiss a stranger for five seconds, which she does, and is rewarded with $100 paid directly into her bank.
By all accounts, Vee, short for the wonderfully named Venus Delmonico, is a bright girl. She’s a high-schooler just about to graduate and move on to college. It’s when her best friend, cheerleader Sydney (Emily Meade) has the nerve to moon the bleachers during a cheer that Vee realizes something else is going on. Sydney is a Nerve player, and even though that dare to moon the crowds has caused a suspension from school, the girl doesn’t care. She’s a player and she won, and to her that’s all that matters.
Vee is drawn in and makes a rash decision to sign up on-line and play. It’s meant to be a one-time thing. Take the dare, kiss the stranger, win the $100 and quit. But like many things, especially if it involves what seems like easy money, Vee takes the next dare, wins a slightly bigger pot and keeps going until the dare develops into something more dangerous, and then it’s too late. Nerve knows everything about its players – social security numbers, passwords, bank accounts, everything – and to fail at a task, or to go to the police for that matter, is to have your life wiped out. Vee has no choice. She has to keep taking the next dare.
With images of on-line pages, messages, and tweets flashing across the screen as fast as a hacker can click, Nerve watchers observe every movement of the players on their phones or desktops. Trapped in a nightmare with no escape, Vee has to continue forward. She can either win the night by completing every given dare in order to become the new Nerve champion, or lose everything, maybe even her life. With assistance from Ian (Dave Franco) who finds himself equally trapped in the game, the couple do what they can to beat the system, and it all takes place during one long night in New York while all the watchers watch.
Nerve is continually unsettling. It’s the kind of film where, as viewed through the eyes of an adult, you want to reach out and shake sense into these characters. Viewing events as they spiral out of control with lives about to be ruined so quickly while others cheer the characters on isn’t altogether an easy watch, especially when you can see how simple it would have been to avoid getting sucked in to playing the game. It makes you uncomfortable. But Nerve isn’t aimed at adults. It’s a teenage affair, and without the life experience of knowing how things work and the devastating consequences that follow, it’s not difficult to understand why these characters would allow themselves to be cajoled by friends to take part in such an irresponsible game.
In its favor, the film picks up during the climactic moments when Vee and Ian are faced with an impossible task with no possible way of winning. You know there’s some of kind of trick going on but it’s not easy to see what it is and how it’s all going to unfold, and in that sense, as a thriller with a twist ending, Nerve works and it comes with a perverse sense of satisfaction, even relief. But even though the teenage crime-thriller eventually displays the danger and sheer stupidity of signing up to play the game, the film still presents early events with a sense of risky fun too hard to resist; an addictive youthful adrenaline rush that comes with playing. The film may imply that taking part in a game like Nerve is eventually the wrong course of action, but it’s still presented as an inviting challenge for thrill seekers with risks worth taking if it means temporary on-line fame and a financial gain to boot.
It may be fiction, but If something like Pokemon Go can cause fights, car wrecks, accidents and even gun play, the thought that someone could develop a variation of an on-line game inspired by a film that hands out dares to its youthful players with a financial reward makes Nerve all the more unsettling. Especially when its bright, neon-lit, electronic widescreen cinematography creates a world that appears so seductively attractive.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 96 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)