Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s Nerve wants to be a grand commentary on the internet and the addictive nature of social media. Nerve wants to be a thriller full of twists and turns, packed with characters who can’t be trusted and surprises around every corner, like a teen-centric version of David Fincher’s The Game (1997), but for the internet generation. Nerve is, unsurprisingly, neither of these, instead coming across as a teen melodrama with the trappings of a psychological thriller, one with little tension and filled with cardboard characters.
The film’s concept is its most interesting aspect, focusing on an app called, of course, Nerve. Mostly used by thrill-seeking teens, kids can sign up and be given increasingly elaborate (and dangerous) dares. Accomplishing them means cash. Failure means you’re broke again — or worse. As a illustration of the elusiveness of internet fame and the simple pleasures of social media popularity, this is a perfectly fine place to start. Nerve, in its favor, actually has an accomplished grasp of internet culture. This isn’t some embarrassing facsimile created by out-of-touch geezers. It feels authentic and real, made people who actually use the internet.
This, unfortunately, is about all the movie gets right. The plot itself is the usual coming-of-age tale with a dollop of teen angst. Nerve‘s protagonist, Vee (Emma Roberts), is a nerdy teen with an overbearing mother (Juliette Lewis) and dreams of escaping her Staten Island home after high school. But, after a moment of mild embarrassment, Vee decides to shed her shy demeanor, go against her natural disposition and become a “player” on Nerve. This leads her to fellow player Ian (Dave Franco) — who may or may not be trustworthy — as the two team up to become an sudden internet sensation. This, in turn, leads to increasingly dangerous — and more lucrative — dares, all put forth by the app’s users and causing some strife between Vee and her friends.
As a portrait of teen jealousy, Nerve is fine and feels honest, if not a bit pat and none-too-original. As a thriller, things are on flimsier ground, as the movie never properly cranks up the tension. Nothing here feels extreme or particularly daring. The characters do little more than exist. Roberts and Franco have zero chemistry, and the idea of Vee and Ian being romantically entangled only seems feasible because the plot says so. Eventually, Nerve gets to a place where the stakes are life or death, but it’s hard to get too lathered up about any of it by that point. With nothing at risk and no reason to care about the people on screen, the film makes for tepid viewing. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity, all involving teens.
Now playing at Carolina Cinemark, Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher, Epic of Hendersonville.