If the intention of directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman was to make a severe critique of the current era, where millennials are engrossed in demented apps and voyeuristic social media, then the film Nerve is pure genius.
The movie plunges us into today’s virtual reality from the moment Emma Roberts’ Venus “Vee” Delmonico, a Staten Island high school senior, turns on her computer. She simultaneously goes on Facebook to take a look at the page of the classmate she has a crush on, surfs for news on the web, and Skypes with her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), who updates her on the latest adrenaline-fueled competition that livestreams over the internet: Nerve. This app-game has young thrill seekers challenge each other in a crescendo of dares that are rewarded with money—wired to the bank accounts of the “players”—and an increase in viewer followers, known as “watchers,” who instigate the contestants to action.
When Vee is partnered with a mysterious stranger named Ian (Dave Franco), their instant chemistry makes them online celebrities and fan favorites. Their adventures, during a New York night scene, pushes Vee to alienate her best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) and put her life on the line in pursuit of social enfranchisement. However, the dares of the game will escalate from mildly embarrassing to downright deadly and will lead to a cause for action involving the entire teen community.
Gun control is one of the most debated issues in America today, and this film definitely has the nerve (pun intended) to portray the way teens handle real weapons, as easily as they would in a video game. Moreover, this film couldn’t arrive at a more appropriate time with the release of Pokémon GO. The anime interactive game engages its users, inspiring them to roam around town to find, trade, or battle Pokémon through augmented reality via their smartphones. Likewise, Nerve competitors lose sense of reality to gain the number one position in a game that requires the dare to be captured by the device of the player.
The film cleverly makes a cocktail of the top social media sites, set in a Generation Y apocalyptic scenario. Forget Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram—they’re outdated. Focus on the streaming multimedia platforms, such as Vine, Periscope, YouNow Broadcast Live, and Live.ly Live Stream, and add the lecherous elements of dating apps. The outcome is ominous.
The actors are well cast in this PG-13 rated movie where the naive and knowledgeable Vee—who loves Virginia Woolf and is torn between going to an art school in Southern California and staying close to her mother (Juliette Lewis), who is still mourning the death of her brother—meets the steamy motorcyclist Ian. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco depict the conventional good-girl-bad-boy-couple, in a multimedia teen fotonovela, involving dangerous and risky behavior.
Joost and Schulman, known for their work on Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3, have an effective eye for virtual reality direction that brings to life the pedantically moralizing and predictable YA novel by Jeanne Ryan, adapted here by screenwriter Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story). The film also has some flavor of The Hunger Games, as it shows the way young people communicate nowadays.
The terrestrial world is the hostage of cyberspace. And our protagonist, just like a contemporary Alice, goes down the rabbit hole to the dark side of digital reality. The online audience is influential in her decision-making, mirroring how social media contacts affect the real lives of people who feel the need for validation but might end up as victims of cyber-bullying. Nervefully captures this phenomenon and the way the global village has transformed into Orwell’s horrific prediction. Privacy no longer exists online and at the same time it is difficult to grasp the true nature of people who try to project the most glamorous image of themselves.
The timeliness of the script almost seems to forecast the consequences of the multimedia Big Brother society we are living in. The most alarming factor of Nerve is that there is no villain embodied by a single individual. An entire society, brainwashed by a game, becomes the mischief-maker that requires reformation.
Despite some necessary elements of cliché and predictability for the admonishing tale, Nerve efficaciously molds the world of Go-Pros and iPhone videos into an action movie. Younger generations are now warned on the backlashes of acting primarily to please the community of the world wide web.