Nerve is a techno, virtual-reality thriller from Lionsgate, a studio now attempting to craft a post-Hunger Games (and Divergent...) future, with this relatively low-budgetted summer offering directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco star as 'Players' of 'Nerve', a truth or dare style game where 'Watchers' live-stream their favourite participants in a number of hand-selected dares, with the rewards increasing in parallel with the risk the 'game' poses, all through the comfort of their smartphones. It's quite the definition of a B-movie, seemingly targeted at an underserved teenage demographic on a small budget and restricted marketing costs focusing almost entirely on social media; it really was quite a surprise then when I realise Nerve would probably wind up as one of my favourite films of the summer.
Vee Delmonico (Roberts) is a reserved and unadventurous high-schooler and when encouraged by her friend, and reeling after an embarrassing rejection, Vee signs up for Nerve as a Player. Quickly, Watchers pair her up with Ian (Franco) to complete a number of dares, increasing in risk and danger as the prize fund raises. As they are both dragged further into the game, relationships fray and the competition intensifies, the two are left with no option but to keep playing until the very end.
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are absolutely charming as the leading protagonists and players, who become more and more out of their depth as the film progresses. Roberts' Vee is the affable underdog you cannot help but champion and her level-headed nature and naivety makes her a compelling character that many will be able to identify with. Franco's Ian is far more mysterious, with a potential hidden agenda, but is equally likeable with an infectious performance delivered. The two are very well-matched as the leads with an endearing chemistry that makes them easy to cheer on, even if their characters are occasionally built on clichés and stereotypes a little too willingly. It's worth noting that the rest of the cast are solid as their teenage peers, even if Roberts and Franco can't help but steal every scene they are in. Visually, the film is also delightful; tinged with neon glows, fairy lights and bright colours, each scene manages to feel youthful, zesty and vibrant as we navigate throughout the dares and missions set for the two protagonists, set in the cityscape.
For a low-key thriller, Nerve has a lot to say about its subject matter - teenagers, technology zeitgeist, internet culture and fame - putting it front and centre while still managing to move at a blistering pace that feels natural and exciting. Its final climax may be a little on the nose and bold, but it is refreshing to see a thriller, particularly targeted at teenagers, making such a daring statement regarding the glamour and pitfalls of technology, as well as crowd psychology and anonymity that often allows such negativity on social media to manifest. Its direction and editing is constantly intriguing, flicking from segment to segment that acts as a reminder of the idea of phases and trends beginning as quickly as they have ended; at a time where Pokemon Go is gripping the world, Nerve feels perfectly timed to add to its mediation. Even with a lot on its mind, Nerve never forgets to be entertaining, feeling sharp enough and pretty enough to be throughly enjoyed - oh, and the soundtrack is pretty neat too.
As I could with Disney Pixar's Finding Dory earlier this summer, I could sit here and nit-pick away at its minor flaws but Nerve still remains a pleasantly refreshing and original thriller that pushes some new areas into the spotlight. The final act feels a little bit rushed and some character cliches are pushed a little too much into effect but never enough to total distract from Nerve's intentions and aims. And while the structure may begin to feel repetitive (dare, complete, dare, complete), it's snappy editing, brilliant leads, colour palettes and speed does more than enough to compensate and differentiate each dare.
With social media at the very heart of the world we live in, the film takes these elements to demonstrate the wide-spreading nature of this technology, as well as the hidden danger through its incredibly intriguing premise. Captivating and brilliantly performed by Roberts and Franco, Nerve exceeded my expectations to become one of the most tense, adrenaline-packed films of the summer. In a blockbuster season that lacked originality, Nerve brought it in abundance, dressing it up in a visually-spectacular package that is well acted, well directed, well edited, thought-provoking and intriguing. With Lionsgate wrapping up their insanely successful Hunger Games franchise with Mockingjay (Part Two) last year and stepping on egg shells with the Divergent series, this is exactly the sort of film that they should pursue as they attempt to craft their new wave of cinema.
Summary: Nerve takes an intriguing premise and selection of themes, two charming leads, solid direction and beautiful visuals to deliver an adrenaline-packed, original film, that may just be one of the strongest of the summer. I dare you to watch.
Highlight: The film stands out for being original - something lacking drastically from this year's blockbuster season. Roberts and Franco's chemistry is pretty damn impressive too.