Synopsis: A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of “watchers.”
Release Date: July 27. 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Crime, Mystery
A few years back, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman turned heads with their provocative “documentary” Catfish (in quotes because its authenticity as a nonfiction film has always been suspect). A year later, the filmmaking duo was rewarded for their efforts when they were asked to helm Paranormal Activity 3, arguably the best film in the popular horror franchise. Unfortunately, they also did the follow-up the next year, Paranormal Activity 4, which is unquestionably the worst of the series. Well, Joost and Schulman have bounced back admirably; their new movie, Nerve, has them back on top again.
Nerve revolves around an internet game, appropriately called Nerve, where users can elect to be either Players or Watchers. Players are given dares to perform by the Watchers, and completion of the deeds results in the Players being awarded cash and elevated status in the game. An introverted teenage girl named Venus Delmonico, or Vee for short (Emma Roberts from We’re the Millers), is introduced to the game by her outgoing best friend Sydney (Emily Meade from Trespass), and reluctantly decides to become a player.
On her first dare she meets another Player named Ian (Now You See Me‘s Dave Franco), and the Watchers decide that they make a good pair and team them up. Over the course of the night, the dares get tougher and the couple gets more popular with the Watchers. Eventually, the stakes are raised to a point where Nerve stops being just a game.
Adapted by Jessica Sharzer (“American Horror Story”) from a Jeanne Ryan novel, the screenplay for Nerve is a clever mashup of a teenage romance movie and a tense techno-thriller. At its core, Nerve is a simple coming of age movie, a tale of a young girl who’s having a wacky night of adventure, dealing with the typical teen themes of petty jealousy, unrequited love, and overbearing parents while waiting for her coach to turn back into a pumpkin at midnight.
Of course, the tense thriller part comes in when Vee takes part in the predictable-yet-entertaining arc of increasingly difficult dares, tasks that start off as “kiss a stranger” and “try on a sexy dress” and escalate to potentially deadly feats like “ride a motorcycle blindfolded.” Nerve is a hip young party movie that appeals to the adrenaline junkie crowd.
Overall, Nerve falls into the same category as movies like Hackers and Creative Control, and therefore, requires the same suspension of disbelief from its audience to be fully enjoyable, particularly when it comes to the laughably unrealistic technology. The third act is a little problematic as if Sharzer didn’t quite know how to end it, so she just drove the bus off the bridge (that’s a metaphor, not a spoiler – no buses go off any bridges in Nerve). But in a weird way, it works; it’s an unbelievable ending to an unbelievable movie. And, realistic or not, it’s damn entertaining.
With the rising popularity of the interactive multiplayer mobile game Pokémon Go, the timing for Nerve could not be better. While Pokémon Go isn’t as extreme as the titular game in Nerve, the sentiment is the same, and the thinly veiled message in the movie can (and probably should) be applied to today’s reality. The moral of Nerve is in no way technophobic, but it does have some things to say about the dangers of groupthink and the power of mass communication. Nerve is not just mindless entertainment; there’s a civility lesson or two mixed in with all of the voyeuristic thrill-seeking.
Nerve is a bit of a departure for directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Of course, with all of the cellphones that are in play within the game, the film has plenty of the shaky cam footage for which the filmmakers’ earlier movies, both documentary and found footage, are known. But Nerve is slicker; it’s a more traditional cinematic picture. Interspersed within the first-person iPhone clips are plenty of high-gloss, glimmer and glittery Hollywood-style camera work.
Joost and Schulman display a penchant for brightly colored neon lights mixed with the cold concrete of the New York City locations. The directing duo also recognizes that technology plays a huge role in the story, and they use plenty of digital compositing and animated overlays to put the viewer into the middle of the game through the devices of the Watchers and Players – the images shown to the viewers simulate the screens that the participants of Nerve use, and it’s brilliant. With Nerve, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman use their trademark lo-fi aesthetic only when it serves the story, thus proving that they are more than just faux-documentary filmmakers. They’re storytellers.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Henry Joost
- Producer(s): Anthony Katagas, Allison Shearmur
- Screenwriter(s): Jeanne Ryan, Jessica Sharzer:
- Cast: Emma Roberts (Vee), Dave Franco (Ian), Emily Meade (Sydney), Miles Heizer (Tommy), Kimiko Glenn (Liv), Marc John Jefferies (Wes), Colson Baker (Ty), Brain Marc (J.P.), Ed Squires (Chuck), Juliette Lewis (Nancy)
- Editor(s): Madeleine Gavin
- Cinematographer: Michael Simmonds
- Costume Designer: Melissa Vargas
- Casting Director(s): John Papsidera
- Music Score: Rob Simonsen
- Country Of Origin: USA