Nerve

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A “nerve”-wracking, exciting experience.
★★★
Movie Review #1,087

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Distributed by Lionsgate. Adventure, Crime, Thriller. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity—all involving teens. Released July 27, 2016. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Produced by Anthony Katagas and Allison Shearmur. Screenplay by Jessica Sharzer, from the novel by Jeanne Ryan. Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jefferies, Colson Baker, Brian Marc, and Ed Squires.

Vee (Emma Roberts) is an average high school girl finishing up her senior year in Staten Island, New York. She longs to go to CalArts for college, despite barely being able to afford it. She lives a relatively sheltered life, whereby she is close to her mother, is not allowed to go into the City at night, and never seems to break any boundaries or take risks of any sort. Then she discovers Nerve, and everything changes. In “Nerve”, the titular video game encourages teenagers to accept all sorts of dares, based on what the people “watching” them want. These start with kissing a random stranger and going to the City with him, but it’s not long before these dares become very dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

This movie is very well-edited. From the very beginning, Vee’s computer screen and her phone become not just gadgets but settings of their own. This is directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost’s way of integrating online life into real life. In “Nerve”, style and substance receive equal treatment, and that’s fantastic. However, the style isn’t too perfect in every area. The soundtrack is hideous. Songs like “Kamikaze” by MØ and “Electric Love” by Børns sound like trash off the screen, and on the screen, they don’t complement the film’s mood in the least.

Finally, we see a Hollywood movie that depicts teenage life in the lower middle class semi-authentically. Granted, this isn’t “Thirteen”, nor is this a key focus of the film, but it’s certainly worth noting. I was taken with Emma Roberts’s performance. She plays someone that people my age can relate to and whose struggles feel real, even when they happen in a setting that feels utterly fantastical. For a 25-year-old playing an 18-year-old, you’d expect something a bit less convincing. I’ve seen Roberts in silly Hollywood roles (“We’re the Millers”) and serious indie roles (“Palo Alto”). It’s great to see her establish a middle ground with “Nerve”.

“Nerve” is a Hollywood film with the spirit of an indie. Watching it is a breath of fresh air, not to mention tense and exhilarating. There are many occasions at which the film vacillates between hard to watch and hard to stop watching. For me, the sight Vee try to cross between two high-rise apartments on a flat-laying ladder had me peeping at the move from between my fingers.

“Nerve” is a great film by any means up until the climactic moments. That’s when everything starts to spiral out of control. Directors Schulman and Joost seem to delve too far into the fantasy of the film, and in doing so, they lose touch with the reality of it. That’s what grips us through the first three quarters of the film: the frightening notion that these events, while unlikely, could actually happen.

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