Fun trash absolutely has its place in cinema, and Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do a mostly solid job proving that with this stylistically impressive mid-budget thriller, once again exploring the dangerous potential of modern technology.
High schooler Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Emma Roberts) learns of an exciting new online dare game called Nerve, where players are challenged to perform and live-stream increasingly daring acts in public for increasingly generous sums of money. When Vee meets another player, Ian (Dave Franco), the pair are egged on to team up and pull off a series of feats that might lead them to grand riches…or something not quite so fortuitous.
It’s easy to take one look at this movie’s logline and dismiss it as a nonsensical tech thriller, given how quickly the genre’s movies tend to feel preachy and out of date. However, due to a combination of sharp style and relevant themes, Nerve is a surprisingly effective, sinewy little teen thriller for the most part.
Yes, there are problems; the actors are laughably conspicuous as many years older than their characters, especially Orange is the New Black’s Kimiko Glenn, who is 27-years-old in reality and “dressed young” in highly unconvincing fashion. Also, Nerve is overall a good deal tamer than you might expect, given the requirement of a PG-13 rating to tap into that teen market; there’s not much here in terms of graphic sex, violence or profanity, which given the Internet’s status as a resource for all three of those things, does dent the film’s plausibility somewhat.
Still, it ably nails the nature of Internet “fame” and a culture that desperately encourages narcissism, as well as a generation’s collective desire to dispassionately document almost every facet of their lives, and the darker implications this can have in the age of high-tech residing in our pockets and live-streaming now being available on Facebook. That it covers all this without seeming overly didactic is highly commendable.
It all proves less convincing in its third act, however, where implausibilities mount up as the film constantly attempts to one-up itself, only sometimes succeeding without embarrassment. It doesn’t sink the film, though prevents it from lifting off to another plain, instead rooting it firmly in the B-movie arena. Frankly, there are many worse places the film could’ve gone, but it’s still a conclusion that at once feels too much and too lethargic.
Still, the teen crowd will go gaga for it, and it could even play better than expected with other age brackets due to the disturbing social relevance, impressive style and solid performances. This has cult classic written all over it, so don’t expect it to be going away quietly anytime soon.
Nerve is in cinemas now