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Nerve review: a firm ‘Like’

August 10, 2016

FilmReview | by Dominic Preston


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Nerve, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan, is essentially an online reality videogame of ‘truth or dare’ without the ‘truth’. The game sees participants move up levels from one dangerous dare to the next, in return for cash prizes and notoriety. Emma Robert’s Vee (short for Venus), joins the game to prove to her friends that she’s not a studious old bore and along the way she is joined by Dave Franco’s Ian. With our quasi-romantic leads in place the game escalates into a series of adrenaline-fuelled dares including riding motorbikes blindfolded, stealing high-end fashion from department stores, walking around naked, hanging from a construction pole on the top of a high rise and even, perhaps, murder; there are seemingly no limits to what the dangerous brains behind Nerve can think of.

As the film progresses, we are also witness to the evolution of Vee; she expertly morphs from geek to cyber prom queen. Roberts is brilliant, and oddly convincing as a seventeen-year-old, despite being in her mid-twenties; she combines a hip edginess with vulnerability, she’s also sympathetic and approachable. A huge surprise comes in the form of the amazing and ever-youthful Juliette Lewis playing the role of Vee’s mum; Lewis does her role complete justice – she’s a worried, goofy, controlling mum. Other welcome and familiar faces are Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley and Kimiko Green as nerdy teens.

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Predictably though, there are moments of teenage angst, and soppy overly dramatic and immature dialogue, but I suppose that is part-and-parcel of a perhaps cynically teen-focused film that is clearly meant to do well with the 16-24 year-old crowd. One scene in particular claws: Vee starts an argument mid-house party with her frenemy Sydney, played by Emily Meade; they both make these out-of-the-blue, outlandish, overly-dramatic declarations, reminiscent of an episode of teenage drama Dawson’s Creek. Luckily such scenes are few and far between, but they still feel clunky and brash amongst the constant edge-of-your-seat pace that dominates the whole film. And, of course, the whole boy-meets-girl, boy-hurts-girl, and the inevitable re-coupling, is sickeningly sweet and very blah.

Nerve is directed by Aaron Schulman and Henry Joost, whose previous works include Paranormal Activity 3 and 4 and also Catfish. The directing duo have, unsurprisingly, the ability to build tension until the viewer feels distinctly uncomfortable, whilst simultaneously tying that in with the characters’ personal story and pulling at what little heart strings the viewer might have left.

Furthermore, Schulman and Joost effortlessly marry their internet playground with compelling action, not unlike ‘90s cult classic Hackers or Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring; it goes without saying that a film about an app could be really dull. However Nerve gets a firm ‘Like’, predominantly for its suspenseful escapism. Despite not being sixteen, I was transported and transfixed, thoroughly engaged and entertained.

Words by Daniel Theophanous