Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #617
Number of Views: One
Release Date: July 27, 2016
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 96 minutes
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Producer: Allison Shearmur
Screenplay: Jessica Sharzer
Based on Nerve by Jeanne Ryan
Visual Effects: Eran Dinur, Sid Jayakar
Cinematography: Michael Simmonds
Score: Rob Simonsen
Editing: Madeleine Gavin, Jeff McEvoy
Studios: Allison Shearmur Productions, Keep Your Head Productions, Supermarche
Stars: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Colson Baker, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Samira Wiley, Ed Squires, Brian Marc, Eric D’Alessandro, Marc John Jefferies, Casey Neistat
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Rob Simonsen “Game On”
 Basenji “Can’t Get Enough”
 Rob Simonsen “New York Fucking City”
 BØRNS “Electric Love”
Truth or dare? My guess is that most of us would rather opt for the latter, at least in theory. However, it’s one thing acting all Billy Big Balls amongst a few friends after one too many whisky chasers, but entirely another once we throw social media into the mix and log into those heaving servers. I’m more of a watcher than player where the most public of domains are concerned and far more content as fly on the wall than positioned beneath the roving search lights with my ass in the air. Perhaps it’s just the voyeur in me or maybe I’m slightly uncomfortable about the false celebrity status that the worldwide web can provide you (and snatch away callously at nary a second’s notice). Having said that, I do like me a challenge, and seldom shirk a real juicy one when it comes along so I guess there’s a player in me somewhere just itching to get out. Ultimately it all depends what’s at stake right?
It’s one thing playfully mooning a passing busload of women of the cloth and entirely another dangling from a crane atop a towering skyscraper with no harness to bail you out should those palms get sweaty. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s Nerve throws a fair few suggestions into the hat and rarely has a title been so utterly fitting. You see, for all its neon-drenched bells and whistles, the film asks one simple question – are you in or out? – and supplies plentiful arguments for the legitimacy of both. The directors are fully aware of what we really want to get up to when all eyes are averted but also highlight the downsides of such bold endeavor. Deep down it’s a cautionary tale and smart observation on the tech-heavy world we live in. But it’s also one helluva giddy voyage for the senses and offers one of the most propulsive joyrides to have trended in 2016.
Timid high school senior Venus Delmonico (Emma Roberts) has watcher written all over her. She’s the straightest in her clique, has dreams of escaping Staten Island for sunnier climates but is unsure whether to follow her passion and, with graduation but a few weeks away, seems predestined to tread water for the foreseeable. Her clingy mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis) isn’t ready to release the apron strings just yet, as she is still deep in the grieving process after the death of Vee’s brother and needs her number one trooper on hand to mollycoddle.
It doesn’t help that her “bestie” Sydney (Emily Meade) guzzles every last drizzle of attention that comes either of their way and has a canny knack for making Vee feel one less than zero in order to feel indispensable. Before your bottom lips start trembling for our woebegone lead, spare a thought for her other friend and ever-present algae Tommy (Miles Heizer), the poor cyber-savvy sap who has an unrequited crush on her but figures even lower on the social food chain and boasts the ability to vault most firewalls with ease as his only claim not to result in shame. Vee is looking for an epiphany and there just so happens to be a smart phone app just crying out to provide her the vision she craves (for a nominal fee of course). Game on? What do you say?
Bless ’em, the good folk over at Nerve (wherever on God’s green earth that might be) are even willing to waver the subscription charge on one condition and it’s an iddy biddy little stipulation at that. In order to negotiate their undisclosed server for free, one must be prepared to accept the odd “harmless” dare from time to time and in return, can earn themselves a tidy sum or three which is wired directly into their account before they can snap themselves a quick selfie. Of course, the small print goes on to explain that they will have exclusive access to every single facet of your life, ranging from likes and dislikes to favorite literature and a comprehensive laundry list of absolutely any online activity. Have you ever noticed how harmless is only two consonants away from hapless by the way? No reason, just curious.
Anyhoots, after a deeply embarrassing episode whereby Sydney approaches the boy she’s been secretly crushing on, on her behalf, and leaves her mortified as he rebuffs her, Vee decides that enough is enough and signs up. In no time, she is presented with her first official dare and it’s perfectly pitched to reel her in. Heading to a local diner, she must kiss a complete stranger for five seconds and, after studying her options anxiously, fate appears to lend a hand. The lucky recipient is Ian (Dave Franco) who just so happens to be reading Vee’s favorite book and she quickly plants one on this handsome unknown, much to his delight. Within minutes, it becomes clear that he too is a Nerve player and a fairly prestigious one to boot. The watchers are in rapture and demand to see more of the pair’s shared exploits, sending her popularity into instant hyperdrive and making her feel like somebody for the first time in way too long.
Next up is to hop on his motorcycle and take a ride into Manhattan to await further instruction and, needless to say, she is powerless to resist. The challenges start as playful and relatively benign and it is here that we hit a sweet spot as our players share a sweet chemistry, evidently fueled by the excitement of playing to an ever-growing audience, but more than just self-centered attraction. Ian is far more experienced and less shocked when the dares begin to escalate into far more dangerous requests. Meanwhile, Sydney is up in arms over having her limelight stolen, and the protective Tommy has decided to do a little light research into Nerve and find out where the object of his undying devotion is headed. With Vee now firmly entrenched in the much coveted “Top Ten” and rebel without a pause opponent Ty (Colson Baker) willing to do pretty much anything to climb the rankings and secure his place in the all-important final two, the stakes are about to soar.
From hereon in, Joost and Schulman are most interested with exploring the gladiatorial attraction of the Internet and use our own curiosity against us as it double dares us to look away while very much aware that we likely won’t be able to. There’s a high probability that Nerve will have its detractors and many of them will point to the closing act as the moment when the cart begins to come off its rails a little. However, while admittedly logic takes a few knocks as we hurtle towards the climax, there’s a breathless energy present that calls to mind the likes of Mark Neveldine’s Crank and, thanks to players being required to capture their every move on their smartphones, the increasingly vertiginous dares have a real immediacy to them, making it nigh-on impossible to log off. Another monumental sweetener is the sharp-angled, luminescent cinematography of Michael Simmonds who captures NYC at its most vibrant and drenches it in neon, before unleashing the nitrous. Toss in a suitably cybernetic candy-coated soundtrack and techno heaven beckons.
However, unquestionably the greatest strength here lies in the connection between the two leads. Roberts is all wide-eyed awe and wonderment, while Franco’s close buzzcut brings his features firmly into focus and alerts us to his intensity and fervor, which turns out to be totally infectious. This synergy is pivotal to our investment as we need to feel that they could become instant celebrities and it’s fruitless not being ignited by the buzz that their beautifully observed fellowship generates.
I’ve had my eyes on Franco (younger brother of James) for some time now and, after recently watching him in Jon M. Chu’s joyous Now You See Me 2 in a more substantial role than has been customary, was positively gagging to watch him lead the line. Like the equally charming Roberts, he sparkles and side by side Vee and Ian dazzle brightly.
Ultimately the players here are little more than sacrificial avatars with identities and every movement fast-wired into the public domain, while the watchers can pretty much get away with murder beneath their shroud of anonymity. Forget internet trolls as they don’t deserve the column space, this is a statement about ordinary decent people and how far they will go to collect their kicks, when not implicated in any way. That said, whether you buy into the observations about cyberspace culture or not, Nerve is one long 96 minute adrenaline rush streamed straight to our sensory domes and every bit as addictive as the game it introduces. So whaddya reckon?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Dread Factor: 4/5
For the Dread-Heads & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I know right? It hardly seems right talking about dread where a film such as Nerve is concerned. Don’t be fooled for a second though, this film is positively throbbing with pressure-cooker tension, with a handful of later wagers almost provoking a coronary from this viewer. It is testament to just how involved we are by this point that the mere thought of failure sends shivers down the spine and those with an illogical fear of heights may find one dizzily dangerous dare in particular just too much to take. As for skin, we are provided for on both counts as Roberts and Franco pay homage to Pretty Woman (which starred her real-life aunt Julia no less) and give the watchers just what we paid our money for.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™