Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman first broke through with Catfish, a film that showcased the ramifications of what can be done with the stroke of a few keys. It’s hard to top the timeliness of that film, but with the explosion of Pokémon Go in the last month, they’ve managed to strike pretty close to timely again. Nerve, adapted from a YA novel, takes the classic “one wild night” film setup and attaches it to a look at the state of the web in 2016.
Venus (Emma Roberts) is torn between wanting to go to her dream school, CalArts, and appeasing her mother (Juliette Lewis), who’s become clingy following the death of Vee’s older brother. Vee decides to follow the lead of her far more impulsive friend Sydney (Emily Meade), and signs up for the online game “Nerve,” which allows “watchers” to pay “players” to accept dares. The money goes up as the risks grow bigger, which Vee learns after her first dare – kissing a random stranger – leads to a series of dares with the object of that kiss, Ian (Dave Franco). Those dares eventually begin to grow more dangerous, and that’s where Nerve takes aim at its target: the use of the Internet as a way to channel cruelty anonymously.
Visually, the film conveys New York City as a deliciously neon-lit haven, with blues, greens and pinks washing out the city in various scenes. It’s great as eye candy, and works with the appealing cast to make the film more enjoyable than it should be. Because, in all honesty, once the film starts wading into more serious subject matter, it becomes sillier than in the lighter scenes. It’s completely understandable that the filmmakers would want to tackle the heavier subjects of anonymous bullying and pressure, but the heavy-handed approach makes it seem like little more than a slicker after school special.