Hello, everyone! I watched Nerve yesterday and all my expectations were positively surpassed. A teenage movie that is witty, pretty, realistic, techy, and full of social commentary is like a hidden gem these days. Nerve is a movie that simultaneously defines a generation while also warning that generation to abandon its destructive tendencies.
Synopsis: Socially reserved teen Vee (Emma Roberts) isn’t the type of person to take risks. She won’t even ask her mother for permission to accept admission at CalArts, a California school that would take Vee away from her single mother, who is still grieving over the loss of her son two years earlier. When Vee is introduced to the high-stakes dare game called Nerve, she’s hesitant to join. It’s not until her friend Sydney calls her out for her shy tendencies that she accepts her first dare, to kiss a stranger, and her world changes. Almost instantly, Vee is accepting crazy dares for money, but as the money increases, so does the risk. Soon Vee is trapped by Nerve’s rules and in order to free herself, she must find a way to stop the game for good.
My take: Nerve has all the trappings of a stereotypical teenage romance: a shy beauty into classic literature, a jealous best friend, a devoted male friend stuck in the friendzone, and a mysterious bad boy love interest. In the first few minutes of the movie I was skeptical, thinking that the movie would tread the same predictable path as many teen movies before it, but as Vee’s world grew larger, I became enraptured. The New York City presented by directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman is a neon paradise. Streetlights glow, motorcycles are bathed in electric blue, and every building is awash in popping pinks, blues, and greens. Early in the movie, Vee and Ian are dared into stealing expensive, sparkly clothing, and even when they find a way to complete the dare without stealing the clothes, are thrust into the midnight rave costumes anyway, as if they too are a part of the beautiful neon landscape. There is nothing ugly in the movie; every character is pretty and pristine, but for some reason, it’s not annoying. It’s the movie equivalent of eating a handful of Pixie Stix, but without the stomach ache afterwards.
The movie is thrilling from start to finish. I originally dismissed the premise because I thought it wouldn’t be interesting to watch actors pretend to complete crazy dares. Even though I knew it was movie magic from start to finish, I was still hooked. Perhaps it’s because the dares resonated in some emotional context. One feature of the game is that each “player’s” private information is open to every “watcher.” The watchers can tailor dares to each player, which makes a better, and crueller show. In one dare, Vee’s insecure friend Sydney, incapacitated by what she believes to be a secret fear of heights, is dared to walk across a ladder placed between twenty-story high windows. The dare itself isn’t original, but the emotional component behind it is what makes the scene so compelling. I felt powerful empathy for Sydney in that moment, and felt even worse for her when Vee completed the dare without even batting an eye. Other dares, such as a blindfolded motorcycle escapade, and a nude dash through Bergdorfs, are visually exciting to watch, but it’s the ones backed in subtleties of human emotion that really drew me in.
What elevates Nerve beyond the average gimmicky teen drama is that it’s rooted in both the follies of a world ruled by ultra-personal technology, and the humanity that makes that sort of technology possible. The movie states that Nerve is an open-source game, which means that the code can be changed by any user, as long as it is approved by the majority of users. It’s also allows the watchers to be anonymous, which of course heightens the game’s mob mentality. The scariest part of the game, and perhaps the most realistic, is that since the game isn’t officially run by any single person, no one is culpable for the problems it brings. The video nature of the game brings to mind Snapchat, which recently went under fire for its speed filter, which was partly responsible for a deadly car accident. Neither Snapchat nor the fictional Nerve app can be held responsible for the acts of its users. In one scene, Vee “snitches” to a police officer that the game Nerve is causing people to act dangerously. The police officer is indifferent. In his eyes, no one is committing a crime, since the users are all choosing to complete the dares assigned to them. It’s scary, but perfectly legal. Some illegal things do indeed happen, such as when SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS the users of Nerve drain Vee’s bank account after she snitches, but then again, it can be argued that she’s at fault because she allowed the app complete access to her account. SPOILERS OVER SPOILERS OVER SPOILERS OVER
Some reviewers have compared the Nerve app to Pokemon Go, which I think is an apt comparison, but even though both apps seem to mobilize an entire age group almost instantaneously, there are some differences. For instance, Pokemon Go is a rather innocent app which mixes virtual characters with real activities. Nerve, however, is an entirely “real life” game. The only virtual aspect is that the watching is done through the internet instead of in person. It’s also an inherently toxic game. The goal is to gain watchers, which as you might be able to imagine, is far easier for people as beautiful and innocent as a character like Vee. In her first dare she has to kiss a stranger and through the rest of the night must partner up with him in increasingly dangerous tasks. The camera is always on and the voyeurism is present. Watchers comment on Vee’s underwear clad body when she has to try on her sparkly dress just as internet lurkers nowadays comment on leaked celebrity nudes. The monetized sex aspect of the game isn’t elaborated on since the movie is PG-13 and based on a YA book, but I imagine if the game was real, there would be a whole subsection of the competition based on sexual dares alone.
The toxic nature of the game is what makes it so realistic. Every action in the movie seems probable to me, even the eventual fight to the death match in the end. The watchers’ apathy and, at times, their bloodlust, is exaggerated, but in my opinion, not too far off from reality. The only aspect I didn’t quite believe was how “underground” the game was. If the media is interested in a silly game like Pokemon Go, they would be champing at the bit for an app like Nerve. And if anyone can play the game, certainly someone over the age of 18 can. Who is to say that adults wouldn’t be playing? Not that there were any adults to be seen in the movie besides a few glimpses of Vee’s mother. In order for it to be a neon paradise, it must also be free of uggos and anyone over 21.
From a member of the generation that the film is targeting, it’s refreshing to see a movie that actually gets it. The characters may be unbelievably chic and cool, and the app may be a little ahead of its time, but damn if Nerve isn’t a mirror to the society of today’s new crop of adults. It’s a movie that will hold up to a re-watching and hopefully prevent any “edgy” app developers from making it into a reality.