Nerve is a teen techno-thriller from the directors of Paranormal Activity 3 and 4, which I didn’t even realise had directors.
Based on Jeanne Ryan’s novel, the film revolves around an app called ‘Nerve’, a social media game in which ‘Watchers’ challenge ‘Players’ to complete dares for money. One of these ‘Players’ is ‘Emma Roberts’, a straight-laced high school student who soon finds herself breaking the law and risking her life with Dave Franco. Imagine a young adult version of David Fincher’s The Game or David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, but populated entirely by people related to famous actors.
From Franco’s performance to Roberts’ hair, the film is unconvincing; a moralistic finger-wagging exercise about the way we behave online, undermined by a gleeful approach to such behaviour. While the anti-mob mentality message is applaudable, it’s drowned out by gaudy neon and gaudier pop music. By the time the lesson is spelled out in monologue form, during a climax implausibly staged in a secret amphitheatre in the middle of New York City, we’re too fatigued to appreciate it.
The movie also features both Samira Wiley and Kimiko Glenn, AKA Poussey and Soso from Orange Is the New Black, whose combined presence elicits more emotion than any of the actual content. Otherwise, the only appreciable part is Roberts rapping along to the Wu-Tang Clan, providing stiff competition for the most cringeworthy cinematic moment of 2016; the year that gave us David Brent: Life on the Road and Batman v Superman.
Although aimed at teenagers, Nerve insults them at every turn; both in terms of their portrayal here as braying morons, and the idea that young people are only interested in films about social media and apps rather than interesting characters and the world beyond their phones. If I were a teenager I’d be angry, having taken the arrival of Skins as some sort of personal affront.
As anyone who saw the Angry Birds movie will attest, films about apps are generally unappealing. Nerve‘s moral is that ‘Watchers’ are complicit in the worst aspects of the internet. So do not watch.