Every year at the Cinema there is always a couple of little gems that, despite having no real expectation for, I found that I came out pleasantly surprised. Last year, the likes of Unfriended and Danny Collins left me thinking about them for days afterwards, making their way into my favourites of the year.
This year, the same has happened again. Nerve has made itself into my top ten.
I’ve seen it twice now, the second time to solidify my thoughts on it and I must say, I liked it even more. Like all of these other gems that have cropped up over the years, Nerve isn’t perfect, and I’ve got a lot to say on that matter, but it really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it.
‘Nerve’ is the story of a high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts) who takes part in a popular online/mobile Truth or Dare game called Nerve in order to prove that she’s not boring or timid. In the game, you must choose to be one of two people, Watchers or Players. The Players take increasingly grand dares for cash prizes whilst the Watchers watch and set the dares.
During her first dare, she meets another player Ian (Dave Franco) and the two must join together, at the wish of the Watchers and make their way to the final.
What begins as a fun romp through the neon-drenched streets of New York, quickly spirals out of control into darker territory as obsession and morality factor into the downward spiral of those playing the game, in particular, Vee’s best friend Syd (Emily Meade).
From the off, this Film cleverly has its mind on technology and the culture that comes from anonymity on the internet. It knows its targets and it hits them with precision and sharpness, which only helps satirise the online world, giving the Film a more interesting ‘antagonist’.
It’s a mix of genres that I’m a big fan of and it pretty much succeeds in blending them, taking the complex techno worlds of Mr Robot, the dark dystopia of Black Mirror and cutting it was the bright and optimistic world of the teen indie, resembling one of my favourites from last year, ‘Paper Towns’.
It has a rom-com sensibility and a hint of teen angst which comes with the genre but it’s infused with the dark and twisted sensibilities of Fight Club (especially as one of the rules of Nerve is that you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it, including the authorities).
Though it has the coming of age drama on its mind, the directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and writer Jessica Sharzer are just as invested in telling a compelling 21st fable on the dangers of the internet and mob mentality.
This is helped by great direction, a number of clear and engaging ways to display text and catch each aspect of the game through screens and cameras, and cinematography (Michael Simmonds) which gradually drenches every shot in bright neon as the dares get bigger and bolder.
The cast is great. Dave Franco plays a type but Emma Roberts really shines as the lead, her natural charm is engaging and she completely convinces in the role.
However, it’s Emily Meade as Syd who gets the complex role, desperate for fame she will do anything to get there and even becomes jealous as Vee gets more attention. She’s a flawed and engaging character whose simply being used by the Watchers for their entertainment and I was glad she wasn’t written as a bitch for the sake of it.
Any animosity between Syd and Vee was clearly being orchestrated and by the end, you do care about these characters. The other characters Vee’s hacker friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) who introduces us to New York’s other hacker elite run by Orange is the New Black’s Samira Riley, Vee’s concerned Mom (Juliette Lewis) and another OITNB regular Kimiko Glenn as Vee’s other friend.
We do feel for them and as the Film builds to its climax, we’re invested, the diverse nature of the cast helping to put ‘Nerve’ in a realistic world setting
The Directors have a great handle on the little moments, the small plot details and nuance of its characters. They let scenes breathe and with sound and image they create a consistent and thematic world.
In particular, they do something I find irresistible in Film and TV and that’s in the use of music. During a scene set in a diner near the beginning, Dave Franco’s Ian dances on the tables to Roy Orbison’s ‘You Got It’ and as the music fades in, I find myself charmed by the Film, it hitting the perfect sweet spot.
Now pertaining to the ending, I have a lot of thoughts, so, spoilers.
The game becomes gradually darker and dangerous as the Film goes on, footage of previous darers from other cities succeeding or failing, even the death of one guy in Seattle. The Watchers put Vee and Ian into an arena with a gun each and though Ian chooses to abstain, Vee refuses and in jumps Ty, another player, to do it instead.
Surrounded by masked people, Vee tries to speak passionately about what they’re doing, hiding behind screens and voting for someone to die. Ty asks, should he shoot her, yes or no?
A brief montage of people across the city clicking yes or no as the timer counts down and when it shows Yes, Ty shoots Vee.
The song ‘The Sun’s Gone Dim’ by Johann Johannsson beings to play as Ian cradles Vee in his arms and back in the hacker headquarters Tommy and Samira Riley let loose some sort of virus that reveals the names of every Watcher, popping a message onto each screen “You are an accessory to murder’.
The Watchers log out and scatter across the city and for this one minute, I was staring open-mouthed at the screen. The use of music sent chills up and down my body and I couldn’t believe how ballsy of an ending it was. It’s such a strong message, especially in this day and age, about anonymity and how you can seem brave hiding behind your screen but you’re just a coward.
I wanted it to cut there, however, what could have been the bravest, coolest finale in cinema this year was sadly undermined by Vee waking up, the plan orchestrated by her and Ty uncover the criminals amongst the Watchers. It was a cop out, a happy ending that shouldn’t have been there. and for once in the Film I was rooting for the dark Black Mirror ending instead of the cheery Indie one.
Yet, I still enjoyed the Film.
On second viewing, I was more ok with the ending and I saw that the Film had set up the twist earlier on, so I was less inclined to be annoyed. I just wish that it hadn’t happened, that the people behind the Film could’ve just been that little bit braver and left Vee dead. It would’ve been awesome and could’ve pushed the Film higher up my 2016 ranking (It’s currently 8th, so not bad at all)
A part of me wants the DVD release to have a different cut of the ending but we’ll see.
Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Nerve’, it was a strong, socially minded and grimly provocative thriller with a twist of the Indie high school drama I’ve become accustomed to. I liked it a lot and I want more people to see it.