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'Nerve' taps into our social media fears

“Nerve” (2016) – “Anything is possible, if you’ve got enough nerve.” – J.K. Rowling

Vee (Emma Roberts), a high school senior, does not believe that anything is possible, because she plays it safe. Now, she studies hard and takes lots of terrific photos as a photographer on the yearbook staff but is too shy to speak to her crush, J.P. (Brian Marc), a star on the football team. Vee also applied to a prestigious California art school, and they accepted her into their program, but since her mother wants her to live at home in Staten Island, she has little intention to move across the country. Ironically, her best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), shows no fear and will try anything, but the more brazen that she is, the less adventurous Vee becomes. Sydney seems to suck up all of Vee’s oxygen, and they – unfortunately – are both comfortable with this arrangement.

On the other hand, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman suddenly introduce Vee to a dangerous online game called Nerve, and she immediately taps into her unused reservoir of courage in a sometimes thrilling, sometimes thought-provoking teenage drama.

As the movie explains it, Nerve is “a game of truth or dare but minus the truth.”

This online community is connected by cell phones, and the participants choose to be players or watchers. The players are the “doers”, and they attempt various dares that the game proposes. The watchers, in turn, follow them, like on Twitter or other forms of social media. In a twisted way, this movie-version of social media is perilously social.

In the beginning, we realize that this intriguing concoction has the chance to simmer, but most likely we figure that Nerve will boil over and create a dangerous mess for anyone logging in as a player. As the movie progresses, Joost and Schulman set up enjoyable madness for both the audience and watchers to experience, while Vee ventures on her intense life-experience journey in just one evening.

Vee’s interest in the game soars when she meets Ian (Dave Franco). Since Vee has not dated, she gladly follows this “knight in shining armor” (dressed in a leather motorcycle jacket and jeans) from dare to dare among the nighttime lights of The Big Apple. Roberts is very likeable here, and so is Franco, primarily because Ian is the catalyst to Vee spreading her wings. Even though Ian possesses a sense of danger - and most likely hiding something very dark – Vee experiences joy and embraces an adrenaline potion mixed with equal parts of physical risks and girlish excitement. We approve of her feeling alive but also fret with parental, big brother or big sister anxiety, as the hazards of the game grow.

Since Vee and her friends attend high school, the film splashes in a purposely adolescent pool, and the traditional teen worry of popularity stands on the high dive for everyone to see. In this case, popularity transcends high school and graduates into this obsessing social app. “Nerve” gets visually creative with this concept, as neon-colored, animated flags pop up high above the urban mass of buildings in New York City with screen login names. Hundreds of virtual flags in the sky deliver some uneasiness, as we see the numbers of players and watchers multiply, while Vee, Sydney and many, many others take on dares such as mooning a crowd, kissing a stranger or real dangerous stunts like placing a ladder in between two buildings – 10 stories up – and walking across.

The tension methodically and effectively climbs as the movie zips forward, and the famous saying, “It is all fun and games, until someone gets hurt” repeated over and over in my head.

Another real fear popped into my head, when the movie explores the handing over of our personal information to an online source. During a very uneasy sequence – which only lasted a few seconds – the film demonstrates how the Nerve game pulls our info from many online places that we hold dear. With all of the nail-biting, treacherous challenges which Vee and Ian attempt, these few seconds of data mining by the Nerve game raise the hair on the back of our necks and deliver the scariest moment in the film.

Generally speaking, “Nerve” is an effective thriller but trips up in the third act via a clunky ending that tries too hard to wrap up its sweeping ideas of social acceptance and the swiftness of viral, online phenomenons. At one point, Vee’s mom (Juliette Lewis) frets about her little girl and ends up conversing with a group of computer hackers. What?

Well, the movie still leaves a pretty memorable mark.

Will you enjoy “Nerve”?

As J.K. Rowling stated, “Anything is possible.”

I would reply, “There’s a decent chance.” (2.5/4 stars)

Image credits: Lionsgate

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