The Game for the Pokémon Go era: technology is terrifying in this thriller
Nerve is pretty much perfectly pitched for modern society.In a world where people post their thoughts, locations and avocado toasts on the internet multiple times per day, the ongoing paranoia about internet security is an intriguing subject matter for Hollywood. Indeed, the film is coming out smack-bang in the middle of Pokémon Go hysteria – in which people of all ages are putting their lives at risk to play a game on an app.Emma Roberts plays Vee (short for Venus, in case you were wondering), a goody-two-shoes type who has always lived her life by the book. Coming to the end of high school, she’s torn between sticking to her well-worn and familiar life or striking out on her own and heading to art school. Spurred on by her outgoing best pal Sydney (Emily Meade), Vee signs up for Nerve – an online dare game that’s part-AskFM, part-Periscope, part-Youtube and part-terrifying.
Nerve participants carry out dares suggested by anonymous online users, or “watchers”, with the more hard-core dares worth more points in the Nerve universe. Users all over New York use their phones to stream participants’ dares live online, and soon the entire city is consumed with the game. Vee’s very first dare leads her to Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow Nerve participant, and the two pair-up to take on the increasingly dangerous dares uploaded by the nameless/faceless internet. As the stakes are ramped up higher and higher, questions of privacy and online anonymity come to life and death.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman pace Jessica Sharzer’s screenplay really well for the first two thirds of the film – it’s genuinely thrilling and exciting for the majority. Joost and Schulman also directed Catfish (2010), which investigated the dark side of the internet and spawned a television series uncovering the fragility of online privacy. Nerve comes at us in the post-Snowden era, when questions over online security, freedom of information and surveillance are at the forefront of public thought.
Today’s approach to online privacy is a bit of a mixed bag, much like Nerve itself. On the one hand the public is now hyper-aware of issues like surveillance and information-mining, with big news stories like Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations dominating airwaves in recent times; on the other hand people obsessively log onto location-tracking services like FourSquare and Facebook, and give permission to apps to read all their online information (hello, Pokémon Go).
Nerve addresses important questions over online security, freedom of information and surveillance
Mirroring this split, Nerve’s first two acts are a prescient and effective commentary on the proliferation of evasive tech, and maintain an entertaining pace and an (almost, kinda) plausible storyline, complemented by a gorgeous aesthetic. By contrast the final act pushes the film into ridiculousness, as the underlying message is pushed to breaking point and the action is ramped up just that bit too far.
The film’s look is a big part of its charm, as Joost and Schulman use a neon colour scheme to great effect. Vee and Ian’s dares take them all over New York city, with each location shot beautifully by cinematographer Michael Simmonds. The lead performances from Roberts and Franco are compelling enough to overcome some moments of incredulity (when it literally comes to life and death the question of how there wouldn’t be some sort of public outcry and/or police intervention has to be asked).
Over-the-top, bombastic and ridiculous third act aside, Nerve is well worth a watch. It’s a bit far-fetched, and at times maybe a bit too keen to preach on the insidiousness of internet-life (Vee’s speech to the ‘watchers’ towards the finale is a little bit on the nose), but it’s a gripping and fast-paced film that’s fun and looks fantastic and, if you can tear yourself away from your smartphone long enough to watch it, is pretty damn topical.
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