Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman’s techno thriller Nerve boasts a fairly cool concept that is mostly squandered under typical genre cliches. These are the directors responsible from 2010’s documentary (?) Catfish, where revelations about the dark side and fictitious nature of the Internet seemed somewhat new and novel. This pic takes its story from a 2012 novel where online game Nerve dares its players to complete tasks that increasingly become deadlier.
Vee (Emma Roberts) is a shy Staten Island high school senior with a domineering and trampy BFF (Emily Meade) and meek other BFF (Miles Hezier) that has a serious crush on her. She’s also got a single mom (Juliette Lewis) whose character is written as a complete moron when you stop and think about it. There’s also her dead brother and that unexplained backstory seems a bit unneeded.
Back to the game that shares its title with the movie. Vee decides to get out of her comfort zone and become a Player (the other option is being a Watcher and there’s a bunch of them). It starts out innocently when she has to kiss a stranger named Ian (Dave “The Other Franco” Franco). He turns out to be a Nerve Player as well and the two are directed by the unseen forces to team up.
The screenplay by Jessica Sharzer attempts to make some broad points about Internet fame and the youth culture’s obsession with their social media devices. At first, the concept of Nerve (both the film itself and the game) is kinda fun for us to watch and be voyeurs to, like when Vee has to decide whether to steal a pricey dress from Bergdorf’s.
Yet as the challenges for Vee and Ian become more risky, Nerve becomes far less believable, considerably less enjoyable and far more trapped in the cliches of any run of the mill thriller. None of the cast necessarily shines, but everyone is essentially playing a stereotype so it’s probably not their fault. As a huge fan of 90s hip hop, I did appreciate the Wu-Tang Clan references due to Vee hailing from Staten Island, so there’s that. There’s also the sight of The Other Franco serenading a restaurant to Roy Orbison. At least some solid music interrupts the mostly disappointing Nerve on occasion.
** (out of four)