In the swinging sixties, pop artist Andy Warhol said that “in the future, everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes” and thanks to a social-media obsessed 21st century internet generation, he may well have been onto something. The idea of brittle celebrity status is explored in techno-thriller Nerve, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Based on Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 young adult novel of the same name, the plot follows Vee (Emma Roberts), a timid teenager who lives in the shadow of her popular best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) who urges her to be more outgoing. In an uncharacteristic attempt to be noticed, she signs up as a ‘player’ to Nerve; an online game in which you complete dares for money and get a hoard of ‘watchers’ in the process. This leads her to meet Ian (Dave Franco) and the pair embark on an adventure that begins as an exciting thrill-ride, but soon takes a dangerous dark turn.
Visually this is a very striking film, and boasts the on-trend neon-tinged glow complete with a pulsing soundtrack. The opening scenes establish Vee rather well, the camera tracking her clicking mouse around her computer screen to give insight into her personality as she Facebook stalks her high-school crush. Narratively there is an observant social commentary at play as the plot raises questions over online popularity, the dark web and how the Internet gathers information about its users. Unfortunately, the themes aren’t fully developed and the tone never digs deep enough, and because of this the style comes across like an episode of Black Mirror that’s been made for the Nickelodeon channel. Both Roberts and Franco bring a suitable amount of youthful charisma and charm to their leading parts, but lack the chemistry needed to really bolster the material.
The directorial duo of Joost and Schulman combine effectively and seem to work well towards the same vision but despite its ambitious premise, Nerve finds itself sitting fairly comfortably in lightweight teen-movie territory. That’s not to say the film isn’t entertaining, but had the writers followed their protagonists lead and dared to take risks in the same way that Vee and Ian do on-screen, then they too may have reaped the rewards.