Nerve – Review ****

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As soon as the majority of the World has its first contact with Augmented Reality, Nerve is hitting the cinemas. Coincidence? We think not. The new film by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who you may remember from creepy documentary Catfish in 2010) returns to their favourite themes – the dangers of internet, a virtual existence and, maybe, just maybe, a critique of Insta-Fame.

It’s 2020. Vee (Emma Roberts, who you may know from American Horror Story) is a young teenager living with her nurse Mom (Juliette Lewis) on the wrong side of New York suburbia. With a love for photography and the high school jock JP, Vee has just been accepted to a Prestigious Art School across the country, but she fears telling her mother about it. Meanwhile, her extravagant, extrovert best friend Sidney (Emily Meade) just signed up for an online game called Nerve. The premise of Nerve is simple – you sign up as either a watcher or a player. If you’re a watcher, you pay to watch. If you’re a player, the community of watchers gives you dares to fulfill, and for each success you get real money into your real account. Peer pressured to prove herself more than just a shadow, Vee signs up as a player and soon meets top player Ian (Dave Franco), as the watchers seem determined of making a couple out of them. As the dares get bolder and bolder, Vee starts to realise that, instead of playing the game, the game may well be playing her…

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As a creative concept, Nerve hits the, well, nerve, as it shows a dystopia that is scarily possible nowadays. Its narrative is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t diminish the attention given to the building of nerve-wracking tension, with sequences that will make most of the audience divert their eyes as idiotic teenagers try to earn an extra buck by pleasing anonymous donors online. Add to that the very intelligent use of graphics to represent the use of technology (making the cinema screen a glorified interactive computer, with the help of cinematographer Michael Simmond’s lenses) and the undeniable chemistry between Franco and Roberts, and you have an independent pearl in front of you. And don’t think for a moment that the script simplifies its theme – not only are most characters presented as layered human beings (instead of the usual teenaged cardboard cut outs) as its main theme is far from presented from a black & white perspective. Yes, Vee did get into trouble by signing to a strange, online game – but not for one moment is her decision of become a player instead of a watcher presented as negative.

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Nerve, far from being the overused doom & gloom requiem for a society drowned in technology, actually proposes a far more scarier possibility – maybe it’s not the tech, but the people that use it, that make the utopian dystopian. Of course, one enables the other, but when you are surrounded by apocalyptic reports of how throwing balls into virtual monsters marks the end of Western Civilization as We Know It, it’s great to remember that, at least, it’s not the same as doing 60mph blindfolded on a motorbike. I mean, at least not until that gives us a Mewtwo…

Nerve is released in UK cinemas nationwide on 11th August 2016.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.