Back in my day, all you needed to entertain yourself as a youth was a football, a wall, and one or two friends to help you kick it. Things have changed quite a bit since then. Because Nerve's premise of an online reality video game of "truth or dare," where its users either enlist to play or pay to watch, seems worryingly realistic in today's internet savvy society, to the point that you genuinely think it could actually exist.
The pressure of the game, the furor of the watchers, and the allure of becoming a minor celebrity through what's essentially a computer-based reality television show all resonate, and throughout Nerve's opening you'll be nodding your head in acceptance as directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do a exceptional job of setting up and establishing its promising premise.
Our entry into this world comes courtesy of Emma Roberts' high school senior Venus Delmonico, who decides to play after substantial peer pressure from her pal Sydney (Emily Meade). Venus' first task is to kiss a complete stranger, who just so happens to be Dave Franco's Ian, another player of the game who is then immediately made to serenade Venus with Roy Orbison's You Got It. After Nerve's watchers become impressed with their camaraderie, they decide to pair the duo together so that they have to complete their increasingly risqué dares alongside one another, each of which increasingly sees them paid hundreds then thousands of dollars.
Proudly modernist directors, Joost and Schulman aren't afraid to incorporate go-pros, phones, and hand-held point of view shots into their scenes, which even stretches so that they're at the core of their action set-pieces, too. While while not always entirely effective as a suspense mechanism, it is never-the-less a refreshingly original approach that juxtaposes nicely with the film's spry and industrious style.
They're also assisted ably by the impressive Dave Franco and Emma Roberts, both of whom inject a warmth and humor, as well as pleasant romance, into proceedings, while going whole-heartedly into the set pieces and selling the suspense, as well as the fun of the whole experience. The less said about the supporting characters the better, though, as they're a roll-call of cliché that are either annoying, weak, predictable, or all three, sometimes even at the same time.
The problem with Nerve, though, is that while its premise is undoubtedly promising and intriguing, the more extreme its exploits and set-pieces become, the less its world and plot either appeal or resonate. In fact, by the end it becomes a wannabe Lord Of The Flies/Battle Royale hybrid that lacks any of the violence or edge of either because it's been diluted down by its Hollywood approach.
The movie's themes of trolling, taking responsibility for your online actions, and living life through your computers, are all presented in a heavy-handed manner, while as it twists and turns to its attempted surprise ending you'll find yourself occasionally guffawing at its stupidity. By the very end, you'll have lost your investment in the whole piece, but you'll still be compelled to watch so that the previous 90 minutes hasn't been a complete waste. Despite its dovetail in the doldrums, though, there's just about enough fun, originality and suspense from its opening 45 minutes to make you passably satisfied as you exit.