The problem with techno-thrillers is that they age quickly, and they rarely enjoy any kind of longevity. They rely on the technology of their time and attempt to exploit the implications by projecting ominous predictions. Of course, in hindsight, they rarely get it right and most of them become “retro” if they aren’t completely lost in obscurity.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman arrived on the scene in 2010 with their ambiguously terrifying documentary Catfish, and they continue to explore the dangers of the online world with this new kinetic thriller.
Nerve is the latest attempt at scaring the heck out of teenagers with its grim premonitions and less-than-subtle subtext. The story follows Vee (Emma Roberts), a repressed teenager who lives in the shadows of her best friend. She participates in a new online craze called “Nerve”, a subscription-based game that awards risky behaviour and vies for views. Broken into two factions, Players and Watchers, the game begins reasonably innocent, but as expected, it quickly becomes more sinister. Vee joins up with Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow player, and before long the game has set them on a death-defying course, with no option of quitting.
There is no doubt that Nerve is silly, not to mention contrived and clichéd, and we have seen it before. But, it’s also engrossing and surprisingly effective.
The effectiveness of the storytelling relies on the use of the various mediums. The film opens with the point of view of a computer screen, and we are introduced to our lead character through her online movements and a series of mouse-clicks. When the camera pulls back into her reality, the story continues to unfold through an assortment of techniques and points of view.
The viewer is pin-balled from one mobile-phone screen to another as hundreds of watchers capture the unfolding events throughout the city. This method of storytelling is risky and could have easily broken the viewer’s connection with the story, and yet contrary to the film’s social message, Joost and Schulman resist the urge to let the technology dictate their behaviour. The result is a well-oiled film that is in a constant state of acceleration and is relentless in pushing its cautionary message.
Roberts and Franco seem like a perfect fit and their on-screen chemistry is reliable. They both give understated performances and never tussle for the stage light. Their rapport seems genuine and helps bring weight to what is an otherwise ludicrous story. The supporting cast surrounding them is completely clichéd, but nevertheless serviceable; they get the job done, albeit in obligatory and structured fashion.
Nerve will, no doubt, resonate with many teenage viewers, and should it spook them by opening their eyes to the implications of digital media and the dangers of personal data, then mission accomplished. The rest of us, however, are required to suspend a lot of disbelief and recall the techno-thrillers that we thought were “cool” once upon a time (think back to War Games, Hackers and The Net).
If you can take Nerve with a grain of salt and remember what its like to be an impressionable teen, you might enjoy the heck out of it. I did.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10