It’s Truth or Dare meets Pokémon Go in Nerve, a fun, formulaic thriller that feels right at home with the Snapchat generation
By Adam Hlava
“Hack the planet!” screamed young cyberpunk Jonny Lee Miller in 1995’s cult classic Hackers. It was the year in which the internet was born and the future of the information superhighway was all up to our imagination. 20 years later we see similar themes of the dark power of the internet in Nerve, a techno thriller based on Jeanne Young’s young adult novel. In a not-distant future an online game has swept the nation called Nerve, where “Players” are dared by “Watchers” to perform a varying array of stunts filmed live on their phones. The dares can range anywhere from eating dog food out of a can, to stealing a gun from a police officer's holster, to hanging off of a crane one-handed. Players are awarded cash prizes for successfully completing the dares their Watchers dole out. Catching a Zubat will never pay this well.
Enter spirited teenager Vee (Emma “Eric’s daughter” Roberts) who after goaded on by her more free-spirited friends, decides to enlist as a Player. It doesn’t take long for one of her dares to put her in cahoots with fellow Player and potential love interest Ian (Dave Franco). The Watchers seem to enjoy the two of them taking on increasingly dangerous dares together, and therein lies the bulk of the film. The chemistry between Roberts and Franco is fairly convincing as they progress through a night of ludicrous dares, not the least of which include Ian speeding through an inexplicably empty Manhattan on a motorcycle while blindfolded, while Vee straddled behind him gives him directions. We begin to learn the sinister nature of the Watchers after Vee’s bank account is mysteriously emptied after refusing a dare, and it’s up to Ian, Vee and their hacker friends to take them down (the Watchers' motto is "Snitches Get Stitches.")
Nerve, directed by Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, is filmed largely through an iPhone camera and is well choreographed and executed partly as a found footage film. The first perspective of some of the stunts adds a surprising amount of intensity to the scenes and makes the audience feel involved. On the heels of Pokemon Go and It’s not hard to imagine a future where a game like Nerve is on fleek (look at me talking like the kids these days.) A suspension of disbelief is required watching scenes of Vee and Ian racing through an empty New York City, but otherwise the cinematography and practical effects are commendable and quite enjoyable to watch.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about Dave Franco. Ever since his star-turning supporting roles in 21 Jump Street and Neighbors, he is continuing to make the case as the superior Franco brother. The Franco battle is real, as the earth will scorch with ruin from the aftermath of Dave vs James for ultimate Franco superiority. I only slightly joke, but remember that Dave was, for a hot minute, a finalist for taking over as young Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise. He’s had a monumental task over the past six years to break out of the shadow of his big brother, and leading roles in films like Nerve will only continue to help his stock rise.
When you boil it down Nerve is a pretty straight forward thriller, but the Emma Roberts and Dave Franco present likable enough characterswith great chemistry, and the choreography of the dares are well executed. Everyone involved seemed to be having a good time and the film showcases some talented young actors. It’s an enjoyable experience if you need 90 minutes to detach from the world, and is an excellent showcase for Dave Franco as a legitimate movie star.
Nerve opens nationwide July 27th
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Seats