Hot Take: One of those movies you kind of love or kind of hate but in neither instance do you feel that strongly about it. Slick but hollow and the climax reveals just how thin the plot is. Oh and why can’t Hollywood find teenagers to actually play teens?
What starts as a slick, hip thriller devolves into a preachy almost whiny sermon on the dangers of the anonymous internet. It should come as no shock the film is directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, the creative minds behind the documentary Catfish and the subsequent MTV series. While Nerve is based on a 2012 novel by Jeanne Ryan, Schulman and Joost’s paranoid fingerprints are all over this one. The paranoia of the anonymous wasteland that is the Internet isn’t the movie’s fatal flaw, though, as it actually helps propel the suspense. However, by the final act, the preachiness is so thick it buries the best qualities of the film and turns the movie into one big missed opportunity.
Nerve isn’t all bad. Actually, for most of the movie, it’s actually good. The concept of Nerve feels like something that would absolutely catch on today. You don’t have to go very far to draw a parallel from the game at the center of Nerve and Pokémon Go, for example. However, the movie relies on this concept that somehow Nerve is a huge secret that only teens are aware of. (Well, teens in the way that the 20 and 30-something actors and actresses in the movie are portraying high school students.) Sorry but a game with the following Nerve has in the movie would make national headlines and this is where the movie starts to come apart at the seams.
By the end of the movie, the game’s concept — truth or dare minus the truth where people sign up to either play or watch and watchers pay to have the pleasure of watching players act out ridiculous dares — wears very thin. What’s ironic is even the New York teens are oblivious to the game before it arrives in their city as it was previously played in Seattle. I guess there is local Internet that only exists in cities? Where have I been? So, it’s not just oblivious adults and the ignorant media that allow Nerve to become a phenomenon in the shadows, it is anyone outside of the area where the game is being played that wouldn’t notice an app climbing up the charts in the App Store. Unless, of course, this game is only available on a non-Apple device and then you have to ask yourself, “How the hell did it become so popular?”
Based on the previous paragraphs, it may sound like I hated this movie. I didn’t. However, it’s an immensely flawed film that will quickly age and lose any sort of relevance over the next decade. Even if you love this movie now, it’ll be one in 10 years that looks almost silly as most movies do when they rely heavily on current technology. It’s just the nature of making a movie that heavily relies on the Internet. Look at War Games, Johnny Mnemonic, Hackers, Enemy of the State or even Gamer. (Actually, don’t look at Gamer. Never, ever look at Gamer!) A couple of those are actually good movies and even with the obvious luster that time rubs off the film, they still are fun to watch years later. It’s hard to tell how well Nerve will hold up but in 2016 it hangs on by a thread so time might not be kind.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Escalating Dares
Like any other game on your cell phone, Nerve hooks players with exhilarating yet mundane dares and quickly raises the stakes for the players. As the dares become more challenging and more dangerous you can see how players might bail but also feel more empowered by what they’ve already accomplished.
- New York City
As mentioned in previous reviews, there’s no better setting for a film than New York City. The city plays a central role in this film and works well with the concept.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Old Teenagers
The “teens” of Nerve are played by Emma Roberts, Emily Meade, Miles Heimer, Kimiko Glenn and Samir Wiley who are 25, 27, 22, 27 and 29, respectively. Dave Franco and Machine Gun Kelly who play the best players in Nerve are 31 and 26. What’s worse is that it is painfully obvious the actors aren’t teenagers and nothing ever feels young other than the pep rally in the first act.
- The Dark Web?
The film relies heavily on the anonymousness of the Internet but also sells the idea that something like Nerve could go completely unnoticed by the mainstream. I’m not sure if Nerve living in the dark corners of the Internet is something anyone can buy. Plus, this concept that there is a way to isolate a web concept to a geographic area such as Seattle or New York just feels like a matter of convenience to drive up the suspense. If Nerve were real, it would be played everywhere, it’s as simple as that.