Nerve review

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco play the chilling online game, Nerve. It makes for a very good movie...

A real surprise, this. Arriving in the UK off the back of mixed reviews in the US, I found Nerve to be an enthralling thriller, that gradually veers off its rails a little, yet still finds plenty to say in the midst of an entertaining 96 minutes.

It centres on Vee, played by Emma Roberts, a high school student who’s treated shoddily by her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), and thus, in a quick moment, signs up to play Nerve. Nerve, we learn, is a social media-driven game of truth or dare, where you can either play or watch. Watching costs you 20 bucks a month, playing can earn you fame and big cash prizes. But, inevitably, the dares you have to undertake – chosen by the watchers, who search out everything they can find about you online – get gradually more and more dramatic.

Roberts thus discovers her path crossing with another player, Dave Franco’s Ian, and the pair find themselves having a quick game of tongue tennis, running around in their grundies, and riding a motorbike without the benefit of eyes. All the while, their antics are being filmed and watched, and are egged on by a social community that comes up with darier dares, and isn’t afraid to leave its comments. Sounds familiar, this.

There’s a small flavour of the little-seen, impressive horror thriller Cheap Thrills about the movie. But Nerve is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who brought the world Catfish. And they’ve certainly applied some of the themes of that film to this. As such, the anonymous power of the internet is continually spurring Vee and Ian on, and for the main chunk of the film, Joost and Schulman keep their feet on the accelerator. It’s useful, too, as not everything the young pair go through stands up to much in the way of logic, internal or external, but the momentum of the film carries it through.

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Based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan, and adapted by Jessica Scharzer, Nerve the game is excellently realised and terrifyingly plausible. The movie builds too on the work done in Unfriended, a film I had a lot of time for, even if its horror elements lacked punch. But what Unfriended did was convincingly apply the language and visuals of social media to a horror feature.

Nerve does that too, with the watcher count perilously creeping up throughout in the corner of the screen, as Vee and Ian become sacrificial commodities, at the whim of those sat in their bedroom looking for something to do on the internet. I couldn’t help but scour the screen for updates.

Admirably, Nerve also wants to deliver a moral payoff, but inevitably, this slows the film, and doesn’t work quite as well. Already, segues into the life of Vee’s mother (played by Juliette Lewis) drain a little momentum. But when Nerve gathers its threads and tries to more overtly teach a lesson or two about the power of social media, ironically, it loses some of its punch.

But then, at least it had a fair amount in the first place. Both Franco and Roberts are on good form, and the sheer energy and convincing recreation of a game that feels two steps from where we are now really worked for me. I liked Nerve a lot. I was maybe frustrated a little, perhaps, by how timidly it kicked the ball towards the goal at the end. But the build up managed to both really interesting, and really entertaining.

Nerve is in UK cinemas from August 11th.

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4 out of 5