Film / Reviews

'Nerve': For the watchers

by Kaori Shoji

Japanese millennials aren’t interested in cars, sex or marriage according to economists and business magazines such as Toyo Keizai. Yawn — so, what else is new? Every night I go to sleep hoping to wake up to a world where people go on proper dates and then grow old together and hold hands in cafes instead of taking Instagram photos of avocado on toast. But in the morning, it’s always the same. The same old world where SNS has taken over and it rules the innermost recesses of our collective consciousness. Bummer.

Today’s lifestyle, however, does also spawn movies like “Nerve,” which is a running commentary about how social networking sites and services have invaded every facet of modern society, especially for millennials who can’t seem to fathom life without apps. Not that “Nerve” demands that everyone should mend their ways. Nor does it inspire hordes of people to keep their phones out of sight in brunch establishments.

In fact, “Nerve” pretty much squanders the opportunity to convey any messages that are constructive or memorable — the movie is jittery and restless with no idea where it’s going. Eventually, it runs out of stamina and flops to the floor. That, of course, could be the point of this whole endeavor — and the ultimate statement about our modern, app-addicted society.

Nerve (Nerve: Sekai de Ichiban Kiken na Gemu)
Rating
Run Time 98 mins
Language English
Opens JAN. 6

“Nerve,” a sly tale by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (“Paranormal Activity 3 and 4,” “Catfish”), is about an online dare game that dictates the lives of the film’s central characters. Vee (Emma Roberts) is a slightly shy and brainy high school senior who is egged on by her extrovert girlfriend Sydney (Emily Meade) to try the game “Nerve,” which not only demands outrageous behavior but divides the world into Players and Watchers.

The Watchers comprise the usual anonymous online community that watch the Players, rate their performances and suggest dares. Players must obey every command the game’s app sends to their phones, and within an allotted time. This could be anything from trying on a sparkly dress in a boutique to lying on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train. If the Players carry out the tasks in time, cash is fed directly into their personal bank accounts and, possibly more important to some, they build up a huge fan base that will guarantee Internet stardom.

Vee is sceptical, but Sydney keeps telling her that “life is passing you by!” So, in true YOLO spirit, she decides to become a Player. For about 10 minutes, the ride (for her and the audience) is exhilarating: she gets 100 bucks to kiss a stranger for five seconds, and another 200 to ride with him into Manhattan on a motorcycle. The stranger, Ian (Dave Franco), turns out to be a Player, too, and the Watchers love the Vee/Ian chemistry happening on their screens so much the pair are coerced into becoming a team.

But the game quickly swerves into terrifying territory, as Vee and Ian are forced to interfere in friendships and are given increasingly dangerous and life-threatening tasks. It doesn’t help either, when Vee’s friend-cum-wingman Tommy (Miles Heizer) warns her that the game is legally dodgy, and there are rumors of deaths and horrible injuries. To cap it off, Vee’s mother (Juliette Lewis, of all people) calls in a panic to tell her that the family’s savings account has been inexplicably drained.

“Nerve” isn’t on the same scale as “The Hunger Games,” but has a similar theme in the way a larger force exploits and manipulates teenagers, as they’re watched by a crowd that cheers and jeers. However, while Catniss battled for love and rebellion, “Nerve” is all about hard cash and digital screens.

The game promises payment, but then takes much more back the minute Vee and Ian fail to perform. It’s a scary world and it feels way too close for comfort.

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