“You have to win to be free.”
Aside from a few stand-out films, techno-thrillers are almost universally crap. Almost always committing at least one of several cardinal sins as they leave the box office and start their journey towards the Poundland bargain bin with all the fanfare of a Brussels sprout infused fart.
They either date themselves really badly (The Net, Hackers), their research consists of little more than a spot of googling or Wikipedia before they start writing, looking for a few cool sounding buzzwords (Swordfish); or they just treat their audience like they’re morons with absolutely no understanding of technology (Blackhat).
Nerve, somehow, does all three.
In a world where everyone is superglued to their phone, only ever looking up to make sure they haven’t missed something to take a picture of and Instagram, Nerve has spread like wildfire. A game where players are paid ever-increasing amounts of money to do dares with ever-increasing risk and amounts of stupidity; subscribers pay insane amounts to watch participants act the fool and make a few bucks doing it. Played like a social media game, where the amount of people watching you determines your rank, the better and more popular you are, the more likely you are to hit the final.
Coaxed into playing by her idiotic friend desperate to become Kardashian famous, Vee (American Horror Story‘s Emma Roberts) finds her first dares simple and gets herself into the game with little effort. Finding herself teamed up with fellow low level player Ian (Now You See Me‘s Dave Franco), the pair find themselves quickly becoming the watchers’ favourites and their dares get ever more lucrative for them. But with that extra prize money comes extra danger and it quickly transpires that Nerve, the watchers and her teammate may not be all they seem.
Considering we live in a world where people filmed a man being talked into jumping to his death, the concept of Nerve is a frighteningly close-to-home one. The kind of thing that’s been brought up in films like Death Race – both versions – and The Condemned, Nerve is in relatively decent company when it comes to looking at how we as a species will gladly watch others suffering, and even pay for the pleasure of watching. It’s tried very hard to makes itself stand out by having it based around the way we live today. Namely, by having a large portion of it centred around teenagers and their bloody mobile phones.
A side note, I’m very aware that this is based on Jeanne Ryan’s YA novel of the same name. I have not and will not be reading it. I have no idea how it compares to the book, I’m assuming it’s a bunch of tweenagers glued to their iPhones and can only assume that this film is aimed at those same teenagers who probably won’t even look up from their screens to watch the film.
There are some glimpses of a good flick here, as players must record their dares on their own phones. Some of the POV scenes from up high look scary and up the tension a little, but it is wasted in a film that can’t seem to get a good rhythm going. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who co-directed a couple of Paranormal Activity flicks) do a half decent job of trying to keep the pace up, but the film stumbles over its own untied shoelaces when it insists on adding elements to the mix that are just unnecessary, like verbal cat-fights between best friends or having a dodgy hacker subplot. And speaking of hackers…
Okay, not just hackers, but tech stuff in general in films like this and the overall lack of respect that is shown to audiences when it comes to explaining shit away.
I don’t pretend to be the world’s greatest geek, but it drives me up the wall when a film takes a few cool sounding buzzwords and patronises people that pay to watch it by behaving like they are all-knowing oracles. I can not and will not walk out of your film satisfied if you think it’s ok to explain away everything using nifty sounding words you googled after hearing them in a CSI Cyber episode.
Just because you keep saying “Dark Net” and “Open Source” with conviction, doesn’t mean you know what they are or what they mean. More importantly, it doesn’t mean people like me, that do, will let you forget that. It’s becoming all too common to treat your audience like technological idiots when, in fact, you could have been so much better if you’d clicked on more than the first link that came up when you Asked Jeeves what Bot Net meant. Just… Stop it.
Roberts and Franco are perfectly fine in their roles, doing an ok job with what they have. I don’t know much of the Scream Queens actresses IMDb entries, but hopefully this isn’t indicative of her best work. Franco is an actor I am trying desperately to like. I enjoy watching him act but his body of work is such a massive amount of bland mediocrity that it is getting harder and harder to call myself a fan. The only other note worthy performance comes from Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia alum Juliette Lewis, who seems to be just the right age to play a worried mum now her new career as a rock star doesn’t seem to be panning out.
Nerve is one of those films that serves as an abject lesson in how to ruin an awesome concept. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being nit-picky, but it really bugged me being patronised by a film with all the intelligence of a bowl of cold custard. With its straight from real life idea of people needing validation from the number of likes, shares and retweets they get, it had so much potential. But squandered it with its cheap and obvious attempts to be cool and edgy.
My recommendation – not just to those considering watching this film, but to those that write and direct films like this – is to take a look at Mr Robot. A TV show that delves into some very detailed aspects of coding and hacking, while being very technically accurate and STILL manages to be engrossing for the masses. You don’t have to dumb everything down for fear of your box office numbers. You’ll do much worse by treating your audience like idiots.
Oh, on the off-chance someone of note does read this, Apple MacBooks are not touch screen devices, you fucking twats!