Would you, Nerve queries, watch as people did stupid and dangerous things for money? Better yet, would you do stupid and dangerous things for money and notoriety? Obviously. Youtube, WorldStarHipHop, Tosh.0, and Ridiculousness are all testament to humanity’s willingness to endanger their own lives for fleeting moments of fame and fortune as well as the insatiable need of others to watch it happen. Nerve combines this dark facet of human nature with portable technology to create the titular game, Nerve, in which players record themselves doing stupid things for money, and watchers pay to watch and dare players to do said stupid things. Nerve has a refreshingly original concept but the movie is kept from being great by several glaring flaws.
The game of Nerve is ingeniously simple. There are three rules: all dares must be recorded live on a player's phone, earned money will be lost if you fail a dare, and the only thing you can’t do is talk about the game (a la Fight Club, “snitches get stitches”). What it boils down to is: watchers pay to watch people do stupid and dangerous things and players do them whilst recording themselves. The game also has built-in time limits for completing dares, which systematically keeps the action tense without feeling forced. The game itself provides a pretty fascinating concept for a movie to be based on. It’s just a shame then, that the movie itself fails to capitalize on this.
Nerve is based on a 2012 novel of the same name. Having not read the novel I can’t say specifically what the differences between the film and the text are. What I can say, however, is that the film is a major letdown. The film’s story revolves around Venus “Vee” (Emma Roberts) and her immediate group of high school friends. Vee is a smart and artistic but painfully shy girl who can’t talk to the guy she likes. While her best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), is her foil, as a promiscuous, attention seeking, superficial harpy. Through a spate of high school drama, Sydney and Vee have a fight over said guy, and Vee’s inability to take chances in her life. Vee decides to join Nerve as a player to prove Sydney wrong and becomes an extremely popular player very quickly, much to Sydney’s chagrin. Things spiral quickly out of control from here as the dares become more dangerous and the game reveals itself to be more sinister than it seemed.
This is the films foundational mistake is having the plot be substantially driven by teen melodrama rather than the game itself. Honestly, what these teens do, and how they interact with each other is way less interesting than what they do playing Nerve. Vee herself is lazily characterized. She’s shy and unattractive in that Hollywood way that is not very unattractive or shy at all. She’s from Staten Island so of course she loves the Wu-Tang Clan. Vee, thankfully, quickly ditches her boring stock character friends and teams up with a fellow Nerve player, Ian (Dave Franco), to hit the town.
The film’s second major flaw is its PG-13 rating. The film and its game concept are inherently dark. Humans are awful, it's a fact of life and they obviously like watching crazy, violent, things happen. My problem here is that the game’s potential for abuse and violence is rampant. There doesn’t seem to be any rules regarding what players can and can’t dare. What’s to stop the viewers from daring the girls to engage in a creepy sex act? What’s to stop watchers from having players murder a business partner or spouse? So instead of taking this interesting and much more imaginative path the film recoils and keeps things too strictly middle school, which is still entertaining and even exciting. But by focusing on teens and their high school melodrama, much darker and potentially more exciting dares are ignored or left on the cutting room floor (Bell).
The ending is the film’s fatal flaw. The film ends in a silly, saccharine manner that's as obnoxious as it is annoying and involves major stretches in “hacking” and giant leaps in accusatory law. It’s a shame, really, Nerve’s fascinating game concept had the potential to be something really great. Particularly, because this game could exist in the real world today. One could easily see a much darker film being made, with the possibility to explore the more disturbing aspects of human nature. Ultimately, Nerve fails to live up to that potential because of its adherence to being a teen melodrama, but also due to its lack of imagination and its PG-13 rating.
TLDR: Nerve is a film with an original game concept that is held back by its own unrealized potential. 3/5 Stars
Bell, Crystal. "Nerve Directors Reveal The Voyeuristic Dare That Was Too 'Gross' For PG-13." News. MTV, 29 June 2016. Web. Aug.-Sept. 2016.