Every so often, film studios try to capitalise on trends that “the kids” are into, like “those computers and social medias and such.” Sometimes the results are baffle-witted idiocy like the Sandra Bullock starring shocker, The Net. Other times, they’re engaging and lively like the camp-nonsense-with-a-great-soundtrack, Hackers. More recently, we had the surprisingly effective, terribly-titled, Unfriended, and now we have Nerve.
Nerve’s premise sees brainy-but-repressed high schooler, Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Emma Roberts), attempt to take a risk for once as she joins the popular online reality game, Nerve. The game is described as “truth or dare without the truth” and basically entails “watchers” encouraging “players” to commit to increasingly dangerous dares. The bigger the dare, the better the cash reward. Initially, Vee takes a fairly easy dare where she has to kiss a stranger. This brings her into contact with handsome young Ian (Dave Franco), and the pair hit it off. The watchers encourage them to play as a duo, much to the shock of Vee’s wild friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), and the chagrin of her mopey lovestruck pal, Tommy (Miles Heizer).
For the majority of Nerve’s running time, we’re following the adventures of Vee and Ian, and that’s actually a good thing because despite their lesser performances in other movies and TV shows, Roberts and Franco really light up the screen. Roberts, in particular, offers levels of nuance that you’d never expect after her seemingly endless “cold-hearted blonde bitch” roles in various seasons of American Horror Story. Franco too manages to exude both genuine confidence and vulnerability, and the energetic direction by Catfish collaborators, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, gives the proceedings a pacey energy.
Sadly, things go horribly wrong in the third act when the film decides that it needs to be “about something” and begins to resemble a particularly silly episode of Mr. Robot, possibly after suffering severe head trauma. Nerve is at its best when it sticks to being a slight but clever little tech thriller that uses social media as a backdrop, and less so when it attempts to mawkishly make a point about society. With that caveat in place, Nerve has its charms – it’s just a pity that they didn’t dare a writer to fix the goofy final third.