Nerve has been billed categorically as an “action crime techno-thriller survival film,” and that conglomerate of description words about sums it up. I would only add the word “teenager” somewhere, probably between “thriller” and “survival” because the film is geared for a young age demographic.
The premise revolves around a new counter-culture reality game app called Nerve that asks downloaders if they want to be players or watchers. If you choose to be a player you receive somewhat crowd-sourced dares from the phone app with which you can earn impressive profits depending on how daring or illegal the dares are. The winner of Nerve’s massive dare competition gets to keep all the money earned.
If you choose to be a player you have to spend $20, but you can watch your favorite players attempt their dares, which have to be recorded live with the players’ phones. If a player fails or bails on a dare, he or she loses all the profits they have earned. The game also ominously threatens (foreshadowing anyone?) that anyone who snitches about the game gets stitches.
Emma Roberts stars as our protagonist Vee, a shy, watcher-esque introvert living in the shadow of her outgoing friend Sydney (Emily Meade), who is herself a popular player quickly rising through the ranks of the game. To prove herself, Vee decides to join the game as a player and meets up with Ian (Dave Franco) when the game dares her to randomly kiss a stranger.
The game continues to give them joint dares, and they quickly become semi-celebrities within the Nerve community. Before long it becomes apparent that a nefarious scheme is behind the craze for digital dares as the game seems to analyze and reflect too much of the players’ personal information.
For Millennials in general the film is extremely relevant to the ongoing buzz over Pokémon GO, and perhaps too relevant as I kept thinking throughout the film about the various ways in which Pokémon GO players have used the app for evil. No doubt a real-life version of Nerve will be a thing in the near-future, and it too will be used by some for criminal purposes.
Nerve will likely be popular with young adult audiences due to its genuine understanding of the manipulative power that social media can have over Millennials, but it is not likely that much more than the theme will be remembered by audiences in six months. Not that any technical or artistic aspect of the film—the acting, cinematography, scriptwriting, etc.—is negligent or lacking, but it is a film produced and marketed for teenagers’ Friday nights.