Are you a watcher or a player?
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s a strange issue that when films involve social media, they are usually rubbish. I’m not talking about hacking – although there are some really bad films involving “hacking” – but take away The Social Network, and I always think that for something so ubiquitous to those of us in the real world, the people of Hollywood just don’t get it. One of the very worst films I have ever seen is called FearDotCom, a terrible horror film based around a “viral website” that shows people being murdered. After successfully reinvigorating the Halloween franchise with H20, introducing the online element in the next film killed it once and for all. Adam Sandler doing a gig for MySpace in Funny People was the moment that film lost me. While Unfriended just about held it together (before abandoning realism and going supernatural), we also have films like The Internship. Like I said, maybe it’s just me.
Luckily, this is a far superior film to most of those I mentioned, based on the Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 novel. While The Running Man envisioned all-powerful TV networks running modern day gladiatorial contests for huge audiences, this century has actually seen the growth of totally new ways of viewing our entertainment. Everyone reading this could see someone doing something very stupid right now in their Facebook newsfeed for the sake of a few thousand followers. Nerve takes this idea and just slightly twists it: what if the people doing these stupid things got paid directly by those watching?
We start with a young woman opening her Spotify and checking her email. Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts) has been accepted into the California Institute of Arts, but is struggling whether to accept or not. She lives in Staten Island with her mother (Juliette Lewis), and cannot afford to move out, having got a scholarship to a local college. The two also are still mourning the death of Vee’s older brother a few years earlier, which has made Vee slightly intorverted and timid.
Vee’s one creative outlet seems to be her photography, and she seems to particularly enjoy taking pictures of football player JP, much to the amusement (and bemusement) of her friends Sydney (Emily Meade) and Tommy (Miles Heizer). After an embarrassing incident with JP and encouragement from Nerve player Sydney, Vee decides to throw off her shackles and play Nerve, “a game of truth or dare – without the truth”. Upon signing up, you must choose whether to be a watcher or a player. Players get paid to do dares by the anonymous watchers, who have to pay to watch. The more watchers you have, the more you can earn from the dares. And the more high risk dares you do – the more watchers you will get.
Vee decides become a player, and her first dare introduces her to fellow player Ian (Dave Franco) when she has to kiss a stranger for $100. They start to accumulate watchers and so move up the virtual leaderboard with a series of small scale dares, but as the dares get more dangerous, Vee’s friends start to get concerned. What does she actually know about Ian, and how far is he willing to go to win the game? Can Vee trust him? And what does the game have in store for the pair?
Straight up, Nerve is a very enjoyable film. The characters of Vee and Ian are likable, Emma Roberts keeps Vee interesting and slightly timid without being annoyingly quirky. In another film, she would be the manic pixie dream girl who helps the guy do the right thing and “find himself”, but the film really is hers. Dave Franco is cool, troubled but again not so much to be a cliche. Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) is also surprisingly good as the slightly sinister other player Ty, who I’m glad has recovered from the last time I saw him:
Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shooman are an interesting choice, bringing the social media aspect of the film to the fore, especially early on in the film. Also, screenplay writer Jessica Sharzer has been involved with the impressive American Horror Story, and adds a few horror strands to the story. There are also a load of nice visual touches, the cameras gliching during some of the Skype conversations made me chuckle, and the script feels very natural early on, establishing the friendship between Vee and her group. Obviously I have no idea anymore, but I imagine that teenagers do actually talk to each other like this. And any film that uses a Roy Orbison song in a pivotal scene is onto a winner with me.
That’s not to say this is a perfect film. The “Nerve” game doesn’t quite hold together (it seems to switch from being all about gaining watchers to earning money) and the realistic relationships and interactions from the beginning are replaced with generic film “friendships” where characters fall out but are then friends again literally minutes later, but really these are minor points in a very enjoyable film.
Nerve is a nice little film with a pair of likable leads in Roberts and Franco. In the middle of a summer of misfiring, bloated blockbusters, do yourself a favour and go and see this. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.
Nerve is in cinemas in the UK now, and the book is available on Amazon and at all good bookstores. Probably.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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