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New Release Review - NERVE

A teenage girl becomes embroiled in a dangerous online game.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn



Nerve is an instantly forgettable experience, save for its stunning visuals. Where monochrome and Gershwin represented a romanticised view of New York 40 years ago, for Joost and Schulman it's pulsing neon and throbbing dance music.

Nerve is in cinemas August 11th.



When it's firing on all cylinders, the high concept teen thriller can be a real winner - the Final Destination series is arguably the greatest franchise to emerge from mainstream America in the past two decades. Nerve has a pretty knockout concept, and one that's remarkably prescient given the current global phenomenon of Pokemon Go and the rash of abusive online bullying directed at celebrity figures by anonymous trolls, but like the Purge series, it fails to exploit the true potential of its premise.


Despite finding herself in the latter half of her twenties, Emma Roberts is still capable of convincingly playing high school students. Here she's Venus Delmonico, whom despite having the name of a porn star, is a shy 17 year-old who lives with her single mother (Juliette Lewis) on Staten Island, constantly gazing across the bay at the lights of Manhattan. When her catty frenemy Sydney (Emily Meade) humiliates her in front of the football player she fancies, Venus sets out to prove she can be just as fun as her friends by taking part in 'Nerve', and online game, like 'Truth or Dare' without the truth.

The rules are simple. You choose whether to be a 'Player', performing dares for cash, or a 'Watcher', who pays money and creates said dares. Venus signs up as a player and finds her first dare is to kiss a stranger for a $100 reward. It just so happens a Dave Franco lookalike, Ian, is in her immediate vicinity, and so she completes the task by giving him a sloppy one. Easy money so far, and when the next dare offers $200 for Venus and Ian to head to the city together, the two set off into the night. But can Ian be trusted? And how dangerous will these dares ultimately prove?


There's a brief montage halfway through Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's movie in which we see a supercut of failed dares, resulting in serious injury and possible death for the unfortunate participants. This gives us a glimpse of the movie Nerve could have been, a grand guignol thriller in the Final Destination mould, an excuse to watch teens suffer horrific fates in a creative manner. It could have launched a horror franchise for our times, but Joost and Schulman, who explored the folly of online anonymity in their breakout pseudo-documentary Catfish, are more interested in imparting a "play nice kids" message, one which leads to Roberts delivering the most on the nose monologue since Steven Seagal warned us all about environmental danger at the climax of On Deadly Ground.

Where Nerve is at its most engaging is its middle act, when Roberts finds herself swept off her feet by Franco's mysterious player. It's a modern, gender swapped riff on '80s movies like After Hours, Something Wild and Into the Night, wherein mild mannered young men were taken for a wild ride by a seductive and dangerous femme fatale. The highlight sees the pair take on a dare which requires Ian to reach 60mph on his motorcycle while blindfolded; to achieve it they rely on mutual trust, and the chemistry between Roberts and Franco is electric. Once this set-piece ends, the movie steadily goes downhill, failing to find any more interesting dares for its central duo to perform, and becoming repetitive with no less than three sequences involving dares undertaken at elevated heights.


Ultimately, Nerve is an instantly forgettable experience, save for its stunning visuals. Where monochrome and Gershwin represented a romanticised view of New York 40 years ago, for Joost and Schulman it's pulsing neon and throbbing dance music. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds, who has been doing great work in low budget indies for the past decade, gets a chance to show his talents on a larger stage and delivers one of the most colourful and dazzling pieces of eye candy you'll see at the multiplex this year.



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