“Nerve” Review: When a Game of Dare Meets the Online World

"Nerve" starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco. "Are you a watcher or a player?" Coming to theaters July 29th.

“Nerve” starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco. “Are you a watcher or a player?” Coming to theaters July 29th.

Okay. I will prelude this review saying that I did not think much of Nerve going into it. It seemed like just another teenage drama with no big names or well respected actors attached (Dave Franco and Emma Roberts are incredibly adorable). The premise (“Are you a watcher or a player?”) seemed entirely cheesy. And from the trailers and promos, it seemed like it would be another criticism of our generation’s use of technology or obsession with self-promotion.

But boy was I wrong.

I am more than confident that audiences will be pleasantly surprised by this movie, as I was definitely impressed. Described as a thriller (the team behind Paranormal Activity 3 and 4 are behind this), it’s no surprise why this movie had me clinging to my seat. Fifteen minutes into the film and I found myself wholly invested, yelling out loud to the screen, “Why?” or “No!”

Nerve is a 24-hour video game that essentially brings The Hunger Games into our world. It’s a real-life version of truth or dare (without the truth) that is influenced by what anonymous viewers/friends/followers dare you to do, in return for money. And it all seems like fun and games at first. Kiss a stranger for $100? Cool. Ride a bike into the city? No biggie. Get a tattoo? Ride a motorcycle blindfolded?

There comes a point where the game spirals into a dark and twisted series of events that really pushes your limits — and morale. If you bail? You lose it all. And the scary part? The world of Nerve doesn’t seem so far off from how we’re engaging with social media today.

Emma Roberts as Venus in "Nerve."

Emma Roberts as Venus in “Nerve.”

In the film we follow the story of Venus (Emma Roberts), an introverted high school senior on the verge of graduation. Her best friend is a social media butterfly and the epitome of every millennial’s craving for living life in the moment and taking risks. There’s love triangles, friendships being tested, and the question of how much would you do in order to gain the most social media attention. (And let’s face it, we all know someone who would do it all to garner the most Internet fame).

The world of Nerve is almost genius, it’s scary. It takes all of your online media accounts and private information — including those public profiles, shopping carts and bank accounts — to create an extensive and incredibly attune Nerve profile that really hits your nerve. Users are able to pinpoint who you are and guide your life, daring you to go places and do things, sometimes purposely intertwining into the lives of other Nerve players.

In this case, watchers ultimately make Venus and Ian’s (Dave Franco) love story happen. (And it’s a damn cute one at that.) They live stream the players in the act of these dares happening, actively commenting on the stream — sometimes poking fun, itching them on or even taunting them, much like what lives in all dark parts of the Internet. They tell them to do little things that eventually lead them back to each other, with each other, and then surviving on each other.

I have to admit, the entire aesthetic and portrayal of how the online media world works and functions was incredibly played out here. In the opening scene shot from the perspective of Venus’ MacBook, it didn’t come off as cheesy or cringeworthy as it could have been. Nerve took something like the app Periscope — where users can globally view a live stream and comment in action — and turned it into a game that makes us question how deep we can get into social media, but also how deep others can make us get into it.

Dave Franco and Emma Roberts as Ian and Venus in "Nerve."

Dave Franco and Emma Roberts as Ian and Venus in “Nerve.”

Albeit there are moments in the film that felt a little rushed and preachy (I found myself midway through the film saying, “Oh I don’t like where this is going.”). But the entire ride was thrilling, exciting and definitely not predictable. I think that’s something rare to find in a film nowadays — especially one of this caliber that comes off as another film packed with familiar names. Nerve is something no one would expect to be that good, while shedding light on some real, raw issues and turns of events that surprise you.

The online media world is here folks. And being an active engager with it for almost my entire life, I can definitely relate to the barrage of anonymous commenters typing away snarky comments behind the comfort of their screens. Nerve shows us what that world looks like for our generation in such a good way, while giving us a little something more.

Are you planning to see this movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts! (And I’d happily watch this movie again.)

“Nerve” is set to release nationwide July 27.


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