Vee (Emma Roberts), short for Venus, has the chance to go to a prestigious college, she has been accepted and all she needs to do is click on the link in the message they have sent her to set the wheels of her application in motion - but she is scared. Scared of failing, scared of not taking the opportunity, scared of grabbing the bull by the horns and embracing life, so when she becomes aware her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) has been doing precisely that, she begins to wonder why she cannot do the same. For example, there's this boy she likes, but she has never plucked up the courage to so much as speak to him, whereas Syd would stride straight up to him and do that without a second thought. If only there was a confidence builder Vee could use...
Yeah, if only she could find her nerve - hey! That’s the name of an online game that Syd has been playing to further her aims to be famous, and that is going very well as the point of it is to gather as many followers as possible, all of whom watch her escapades on their phones or computers. As you may have guessed, this was akin to the nineties thriller The Game, only featuring more of a social conscience as it called into question the very purpose of gaining attention on the internet, which according to this was the goal of every millennial now. Mind you, when everyone, not only the youths, were glued to their phones in the twenty-first century, the filmmakers might have had a point.
This was an adaptation of a young adult novel by Jeanne Ryan, brought to you by hipster directing team Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who had made waves on the movie scene initially with their "is it real or not?" documentary Catfish. This proved they had continued to keep taking the pulse of what would be a talking point online, by essentially making a story about talking points online, but while it was perhaps more fashionable to bemoan the state of the world that was more caught up in what happened on whatever screen was to hand rather than experiencing life first hand, Nerve was not necessarily lacking a brain in its head. It even went to the extent of condemning what it first appeared to be celebrating.
Not that it would go as far as dismissing out of hand the social media and communication that an online community could bring, indeed it found much to celebrate, though you might observe there was no way the film was going to bite the hand that fed it, and as the film progressed it was quite content with the idea that no matter how much danger Vee put herself in for the entertainment of anonymous others, it remained an improving experience for her. That was possibly because the game encouraged her to go through real world adventures rather than lazily watching and commenting without much responsibility to herself or anyone else, so again, the film was not going to criticise its main plotline for getting Vee out of the house. Remember the fuss over Pokemon Go? This did not agree it was a negative game.
Mind you, Pokemon Go did not encourage its players to break the law, even if rules of social decency were at times casualties, and Nerve had a crowd thinking up often illegal dares, or at least dares that would place somebody's life in danger. Once Vee has signed up (with a financial incentive for each task completed) she finds herself behaving in a liberating set of activities, shocking herself that she would take them as far as she does, again playing an audience surrogate: she kisses strangers, tries on expensive dresses and guides a blindfolded motorbike rider through busy New York streets so you don't have to. Was that not the essence of watching a thriller like this, to enjoy the main character's actions at a safe remove, aware that things would not work out the way they did in movies should you try it yourself? By the time the plot was heavy-handedly hauling internet bullying over the coals, a predictable but not irrelevant twist, it wanted you to have a think about how you conducted yourself online, more zeitgeist material, but kinetically presented in an otherwise light and fast paced little item. Music by Rob Simonsen.