Review: NERVE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Directors Ariel Schumann and Henry Joost, the filmmakers who examined online relations in the documentary Catfish, have adapted a very timely and relevant young adult novel with their feature film Nerve.  With so many people in the world fixated with their phones, mobile devices and computers, the themes in this movie will certainly strike a cord universally.  Almost anything can be accessed electronically–news, entertainment, food, shelter, relationships, etc.  However, as Catfish reveals the risks of online dating, Nerve scrutinizes the dehumanization that often occurs through the use of electronic devices and the long term ramifications.

Emma Roberts stars as Vee Delmonico, a very reserved high school senior who never, ever gets into any trouble.  Her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), on the other hand, courts rebellion and as a result, gets much more attention from the boys in school.  Sydney introduces Vee to the newest online sensation NERVE, a game of truth or dare, “without the truth,” where players are dared to complete risky challenges for cash prizes.  People can log into NERVE as either players or watchers.  After watching Sydney get even more attention for a NERVE stunt at school, Vee decides to play to make her life more exciting.  After completing her first, mostly harmless challenge, Vee teams up with another player named Ian (Dave Franco), and the two help each other carry out their dares.  The big money starts to roll in; however, as the cash prizes grow, so do the risks involved.

Written by Jessica Sharzer, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve obviously intends to critique the attachment people have with their mobile devices, especially among the youth of the world.  The filmmakers do effectively make a statement with a film that delivers entertaining, edge-of-the-seat thrills; however, when it comes to a powerful and bold climax, the film, unfortunately, gets hokey and melodramatic.  This is rather disappointing, considering that everything leading up to that moment works well.  The comedy delivers laughs.  The drama works well, and the dares and challenges deliver exceptional tension and excitement.  The entire cast performs laudably with Emma Roberts and Dave Franco offering solid work as the two leads.

Roberts is perfectly cast as Vee, a sweet and attractive “girl next door” type who is ready to break out of her shell in a big way and has the courage to take a stand when things go too far.  It is refreshing to see Dave Franco in a more serious role for a change.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have enjoyed some of his work in comedies, but I also enjoy seeing actors in roles atypical of their previous work.  As Ian, Franco exudes a soft spoken, disarming persona, proving himself as worthy of more leading man roles.  Emily Meade also impressed me as Vee’s wild best friend Sydney.  She has the right attitude for a bad girl, but also includes a genuine vulnerability which makes the character more dimensional.  The movie also features fine work by Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly), Samira Wiley, and Juliette Lewis.

Despite its rather weak and contrived conclusion, I still recommend checking out Nerve.  It definitely would make for an entertaining weekend afternoon at the movies.  The message is highly relevant, and perhaps parents should take their teens to discuss some of the problems and issues associated with the internet, electronic devices, and the exploitative dangers that are out there.  The movie does speak to teens on their level, but smartly deals with the parental perspective as well.

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