Movie Review: Nerve

An online game of Truth or Dare turns deadly for teens seeking fame and money in this new thriller



Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Marko Caka, Doris McCarthy, Kimiko Glenn, Samira Wiley, Juliette Lewis, Machine Gun Kelly, Emily Meade, Jonny Beauchamp, Miles Heizer, Marc John Jefferies, Arielle Vandenberg, Rosemary Howard, Kelsey Lynn Stokes, Beata Harju, Chloe Wise. Written by Jessica Sharzer, Jeanne Ryan.

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Are you a Player or a Watcher?

A popular new online game challenges Players to complete public dares submitted by anonymous Watchers in Nerve, a nifty new piece of cyber-satire that ultimately bites off more than it can chew.

It’s such a neat little concept that I wondered why something like this didn’t already exist. Then I realized it did: there are probably games that operate like this in a literal sense, but on a greater scale, most of modern media, represented by reality TV and popstars and internet personalities, works in exactly this fashion.

We’re all the anonymous Watchers, really, and it’s the celebrities and casts of reality TV shows and YouTube stars that are putting themselves out there for us to gawk at.

You might think the Nerve’s stadium showdown gunfight climax, where the Players are dared to kill each other as thousands of Watchers vote who dies and mindlessly cheer them on, is ridiculous. But if that were Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber in there, would you dare them to pull the trigger?

No, wait: Nerve’s final battle-to-the-death is ridiculous. How long did Anonymous take to set this all up? Nobody called the cops? C’mon.

Until the finale, though, this is a nifty little ride that ought to appeal to a younger demographic.

Emma Roberts stars here as Vee, a runner-up bestie always in the shadows while BFF Sydney (Emily Meade) hogs the limelight. Sydney’s racking up high scores on this hot new Nerve game by mooning crowds at football games, but when she goes too far and embarrasses Vee in front of the hot quarterback, Vee strikes off on her own.

Vee takes a stab at Nerve, and soon finds herself dared to kiss a random stranger in a diner. This brings her into contact with Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow Player who’s been dared to be in the right place at the right time. And the more the Watchers see of Ian and Vee, the more they like, creating an escalating series of dares for the duo to accomplish.

Roberts and Franco have a lot of appeal here, and also share some genuine chemistry. It’s a shame the plot forces them through the usual relationship formula – he’s hiding something from her that will drive her away – rather than giving the characters room to progress naturally.

Still, Nerve is fun for a good while, while also serving as a biting little slice of social commentary. But as the story reveals itself in the third act, and the anonymous Watchers behind the game take on a greater and nigh-impossible significance, the movie simply flies off the rails.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman previously made the on-target documentary Catfish, which exposed an all-too-true online phenomenon event if it wasn’t as true as claimed, and the shockingly good Paranormal Activity 3, which is the best film in that franchise and quite possibly the found footage genre.

In Nerve, they play with similar themes of watching and being watched, filming and being filmed, and living lives through online media. But while the topics couldn’t be timelier, the movie ultimately turns so unrealistic it stops being fun, or relevant. 

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