Nerve ★★½

Nerve is a frustrating experience. On the one hand, the actors are incredibly likeable and the dialogue is snappy and enjoyable. The pace skips along, and some of the set-pieces are nail-bitingly intense. As a film, it's well-made, the shots from inside the phone with the UI of the apps overlaying the screen as the actors looks directly at us is a creative way of making a film mostly about people looking at their phones visually interesting. It has a fun, bouncy techno soundtrack that fits very well with its cyber-thriller genre conventions and social media laden narrative.

Nerve is a film that has everything going for it, and yet ironically doesn't have the nerve to fully commit.

The rating is the film's biggest downfall. In trying to get its 'message' out to teens, it ends up sanitising the film's content to the point of meaninglessness. It feels like it was made by people who do genuinely understand how the internet works, but who are willingly making it so tame in order to achieve the desired PG-13 rating that it drowns out any point it's trying to make.

The biggest comparison that kept coming into my head was The Purge Now, Nerve is a lot better than The Purge because it's actually a competent film, but it falls into the same broad trap:

It constantly wants to make its premise cool and slick and as enticing as possible, while at the same time decrying how bad it is.

Now, this can work. If you make it seem awesome and cool and then gut-punch us with how horrific it can end up (and you know that in real life, where Nerve purports to be set, this would get very nasty very quickly) then you can shock us into submission. But Nerve misses the mark massively, in that, like I said, it sanitises the content. There's no real consequences for anyone who watches, other than some weak guilt tripping that everyone will probably forget in a week.

If this had been R-rated, and shown how horrific the consequences were, like people dying in horrible ways trying to complete death-defying dares (the best we get is someone falling from a crane that's basically off-screen) then the morality lesson would've felt more believable, but as it stands it basically leaves a film that's trying desperately to give teenagers a message but ends up totally backfiring and making it only seem more desirable, ironically entirely because you wanted them to see it. If you had made it more hard-hitting so young teens couldn't see it, it would've potentially had far more impact on the audience you did get.

And Christ, the YA clichés start to run rampant in the third act. Annoying proper nouns for things that real people wouldn't refer to by those proper nouns, visual style that just seems forced and irritating (just who the hell did set up that colosseum?), and a happy ending so incredibly unbelievable it, again, makes the whole message of the film feel pointless the protagonist's achieve an apparently unachievable goal incredibly easily.

Not to mention the logistics of the world make no sense whatsoever. I mentioned earlier that the filmmakers seem to understand how the internet works, well that knowledge seems to end when it comes to how teenagers actually use it. This is an underground app that obviously isn't on any kind of app store because it would be shut down in a day if it went through any kind of legitimate passage, so how did all these teens, literally every single person shown, get the app? Did they all download the APK and install it onto their phone? I refuse to believe most teenagers would fucking bother. Most people my age don't even know how to torrent movies, I doubt thousands upon thousands of people in a single city would have the knowledge nor patience to log on to an underground daring app that doesn't even bother to hide how massively shady it is.

Nerve is a mess, at the end of the day. On a purely technical level it's a well-made film, but all the narrative and thematic elements fall totally flat and make it one of the most frustrating films of the year.

James liked this review