Oh, "Nerve," you had so much promise, and you squandered it so hard.
Taking cues from the very simple premise of David Fincher's under-appreciated 1997 thriller, "The Game," "Nerve" wants to be so many different things. It's a teen romance, a cyber thriller, a horror movie, a parable about social media and a finger wagging examination of Generation Sociopath. Incredibly, all of those wonderful genres combined make "Nerve" feel like a hodgepodge of half-formed ideas strewn across a barely coherent storyline.
"Nerve" follows Venus "Vee" Delmonico (Emma Roberts), a Staten Island-based high school senior who has just been accepted to the California Institute of the Arts. She wants to go but doesn't have the heart to tell her mother, who is excited for Vee to go to a local (and more affordable) college in New York City. Vee's best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) then introduces her to Nerve, an online reality game where everyone is divided into players and watchers.
Players accept the watchers' dares for cash, so as the dares get progressively more dangerous, the cash paid out for them keeps getting better. If a player is eliminated (either by quitting or failing the dare), they lose all the cash made up to that point. Vee teams up with another player named Ian (Dave Franco) as they try to win Nerve while also surviving the night.
Vee is a somewhat shy wallflower, so watching her quickly and rashly break out of her shell is a ton of fun. Sydney goads her into taking chances, but the second Vee joins Nerve she becomes nervous and jealous of her popularity with the watchers. The idea of breaking out of your comfort zone is a good one, except Nerve is eventually shown to be a sinister and deadly game that isn't good for anyone. So what's the takeaway? That trying new and exciting things is a bad idea and might kill you?
That's a fine idea for a movie, but the writers of "Nerve" also think that a majority of the online community are sub-human garbage who would rather watch people die than see them triumph. The watchers drool at the chance to put the players into dangerous and awful situations, gleefully hoping for blood, sex or fear. So, if doing new things is dangerous but staying on the sidelines makes you a cowardly voyeur, then what are the options?
Again, if the point of the film was to say most people are garbage and they would gladly consume suffering as entertainment, then that's a valid approach. Yet the film leans into making the players seem stupid, shallow and greedy just as much as the watchers are cowardly and sociopathic. But the film isn't an exercise in nihilism; it has an easily digestible, young adult solution to the problems it raises.
That solution is vague, uninteresting and barely embryonic. Vee gives a speech in the final reel that barely amounts to, "Why can't we all just get along," leaving the film vapid like its characters and uninterested in the ideas it can't be bothered to develop. "Nerve" is doomed to neither watch nor play, leaving the film just as shallow and cowardly as the world it impetuously wants to be a part of.
Dir. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX