The perils of social media may be ripe for the after-school-special treatment, but less expectedly, they make for a half-decent Hunger Games riff.
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco star as Vee and Ian, two players in Nerve, an app-driven competition that rewards contestants for completing increasingly risky dares with IRL cash. Of course, all of this is illegal and protected by a strict code of secrecy that keeps any responsible authority figures from knowing about Nerve or how it works—kind of like Snapchat.
The novel concept ends up doing wonders for the film’s rhythm. Text messages drive the action, pushing Vee and Ian from romantic challenges to more dangerous ones (and one with a regrettable cameo from a particular social media joke thief). This structure lends the film a brisk pace that never slows down enough for the audience to realize that the characters are as flimsy as their motivation: to make money. And it isn’t until a third act twist that makes the proceedings any more complicated than that. For her part, Roberts does a convincing job of playing the innocent caught up in an intoxicating game, but Franco can’t seem to stop smiles. It’s as if he’s not totally sold on the concept, quietly wondering in the back of his head whether he’s going to look dumb on screen.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3, the series’ high point) give Nerve an ebullience that doesn’t turn mean-spirited. This is a film about young people with a youthful energy and sense of fun that’s refreshing, especially in the summer of movies we’ve had so far. The tone and relatively low stakes allows Nerve to be shallow, divertive escapism—kind of like Snapchat. B–