“Nerve” is an entertaining thriller with a pulsating soundtrack and solid lead performances, but it ultimately fails to deliver a coherent story as its ham-fisted social commentary on the perils of technology hurts the overall narrative.
The film revolves around the eponymous Nerve, a kind of reality television series filmed entirely through the smartphones of Watchers and Players. Players take on a series of dares which increase in both risk and reward as the game progresses, and they aim to gain as many Watchers as possible in order to win the game.
This might seem simple enough, and the film certainly presents it as such, but if you think about it the game really doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s unclear how one would go about improving their position in the game, because it seems as though there are a lot of people playing and exposure relies not on the nature of the dares but on whether or not people decide to tune into a person prior to their completing said dares. If nobody is watching a particular Player then they have no way of improving their position in the game because they’re only pleasing a minority audience, and their success relies on that audience as Watchers decide which dares a Player has to perform.
In the third act the film becomes much more serious and attempts to present a dramatic conclusion, with Vee (Emma Roberts) deciding to tell the police about Nerve and subsequently becoming a “prisoner of the game”. This is where “Nerve” falls apart and becomes an average movie, because whilst it was never going to win any awards, I felt that up until this point it was a well-executed popcorn flick. The cinematography was good, for the most part, the performances were fine, and the whole thing had a great sense of fun, so at the halfway point I was very satisfied with what I’d seen.
However, trying to provide a sense of weight to the story hampered the overall experience significantly because the movie never truly earned the right to be taken seriously. It was fun but never smart, so trying to force conflict into its narrative felt like putting a square peg in a round hole. It would’ve been better if the story had simply been about Vee trying to win the game and the conflict being whether or not she would achieve this, rather than trying to present a social commentary on technology and how much responsibility we have for the things that we view online. This would’ve also made a lot more sense in the context of the film because the dares were encouraging people to watch regardless of whether or not they were truly life-threatening, and the game was clearly profitable so it would make sense to protect the Players.
The game is profitable based on how many people pay $19.99 to watch the entire event, so the best course of action from a business perspective would be to ensure the safety of the most popular players in order to encourage Watchers to return next time. I know this is a film and sometimes you have to bend logic to make room for a shift in the narrative, but at the end of the day Nerve is a reality television show which was probably created to make money, so it’s sensible to think that whoever is in charge would protect their assets.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy this film for what it was, and I would recommend it to casual moviegoers. It’s certainly far from perfect, and towards the end when the protagonists are hacking people and executing their elaborate plan it definitely falls apart, but it’s still a lot of fun. The soundtrack is great, the performances are solid, and the cinematography is fine, so overall it’s a pleasant experience even though the story lets it down.