Cinematic Releases: Nerve (2016) - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the social media thriller, Nerve.

Social media won’t go away, at least not anytime soon.  It’s here to stay and as such will likely remain an ongoing target of cinematic critiques (or rebukes depending on your point of view) for years to come.  Films like Unfriended and of course The Social Network turned the spotlight on how harmful the technology can be for so many people.  The latest addition to the social-media subgenre of suspense driven thrillers is Nerve, an overtly Nicolas Winding Refn inspired neon drenched tween thriller about an internet based truth-or-dare game divided between players willing to take on the dares enacted by the watchers. 

Starring Emma Roberts as Vee, a high school senior who reluctantly agrees to participate in the game after intense pressure from her in-crowd peers and Dave Franco as Ian, her unlikely partner in crime, Nerve joins co-directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost’s Catfish as a sharp critique of internet culture and the thrill seeking validation we crave from online popularity.  As such, it’s a standard genre thriller which doesn’t quite go the distance an R rated thriller dealing with the same subject would have and it doesn’t really add or subtract from preconceptions people already have about online communication’s impact on teenagers.  But it manages to include some GoPro driven suspense in parts when it isn’t painting the canvas with bright neon fluorescent colors ala Drive or Only God Forgives.  Even the poster looks just like Only God Forgives which is what attracted me to the picture in the first place.

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Being a social media movie, Nerve can’t help but utilize nearly all the same online communication tools placed in the forefront that Unfriended did, replete with emoticons and texts-in-picture conversations ala Fifty Shades of Grey and The Shallows.  It’s a little clich├ęd but the actors sell it well and manage to imbue their characters with more complexity than some of the other social media movies floating out there.  Emma Roberts and Dave Franco have undeniable onscreen chemistry and the ever great Juliette Lewis provides a solid supporting role as Nancy, a caring maternal nurse who wants the best for her daughter while overcoming her own personal tragedy.  It’s always nice still seeing the fierce actress turned rock star still working in film although I have to wonder if we’ll ever see anything as electrifying as Mallory Knox in Natural Born Killers ever again.  Visually the movie starts out looking like a standard tween thriller but as the increasingly dangerous truth-or-dare game gains momentum it starts to flood the screen with glistening neon lights with some sequences edited at a frenetic pace.  The soundtrack mostly consists of teen pop hits but the original score by Rob Simonsen does a fair job emulating Cliff Martinez.  Nerve wears its influences on its sleeve but I found myself not minding the derivation on display.

If I had any complaints to make about what is essentially a two hour time killer with occasional suspense and nail biting thrills, it’s that without spoiling anything it tends to end on a whimper.  For such a strong and sustained buildup towards what should be a towering climax, it takes an easier way out than a more confident thriller would have.  Being a staunch filmgoer who prefers their cinema to be a little more uncompromising and polarizing than the rest, I can’t help but be somewhat disappointed Nerve had such fever pitch intensity in the first two acts for such a weak finale.  That said, I enjoyed Nerve for the most part and identified with the film’s overall contempt for social media addiction.  Its heart is in the right place and it has something to say for teenage viewers who made up most of the audience at the screening I attended.  In our cultural era of social media addiction and obsession, Nerve has a thing or two teenagers can take from the film that will make them think twice about how much of themselves they’re investing in the online inner-space.  It could have been stronger and taken more risks but wasn’t totally without merit or entertainment value.  You could do far worse on a Saturday afternoon.


- Andrew Kotwicki