Social media it seems has taken over the world to such a degree that people are incapable of taking a bus ride without getting their phone out to pick up emails and text each other and NERVE comes at a prescient moment with Vee (Emma Roberts), who is something of an Ellie Goulding lookee-likee high school senior, as obsessed with the internet as nearly every student appears to be these days. The craze for the ice bucket challenge, which degenerated very quickly into a bunch of self publicising exhibitionists pouring a bucket of water over their head for no charitable reason except to get themselves on You Tube, would now be usurped by NERVE , an online game that’s far more interesting. Divided into Watchers and Players where the watchers will film players as a live stream performing ever more outrageous and increasingly dangerous dares in their quest to earn money and climb up the rankings. Vee is goaded into becoming a player by her friend Sydney and initially her low level dares eventually hook her up with another player, Ian (Dave Franco) and the pair of them quickly ascend the rankings chart and accumulate more money as the dares grow ever more extreme and ultimately life threatening.
It’s a simple enough premise but NERVE is so compellingly shot as to be as addictive as the game itself and is the sort of daft game you can easily see taking hold of impressionable kids looking for thrills. Part social network nightmare it generates a sense of authenticity through its use of the watchers filmed footage being used. In itself it’s a variation of the found footage genre though thankfully is much more entertaining than many in the genre with much of the film shot out of necessity as POV although at times it glosses over who exactly is filming the dares but there is a constant sense that anything could happen and some of sequences are terrifyingly vertiginous. The events take place over one evening and unlike everyone else phones there’s seem to have an indefinite battery life as unlike the staple horror trope their phone battery never goes flat and they can always get a signal. Certainly for its first 2 acts this is compellingly told and it’s only towards the end when the story doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions that its climatic scene is something of a cop out. That said Henry Joost, who directed two of the better Paranormal Activity films handles the sequences with aplomb and the challenge to the watchers is their lack of morality being complicit in people putting their lives at risk in the name of entertainment and in that respect its similar to Michael Haneke’s superb ‘Funny Games though not as obvious in its indictment of audience bloodlust.
With elements of the Dice man phenomena this is a slickly made film for internet age adrenline junkies and for least part of the way is as addictive as the game itself and is destined to be a cult hit.
Here’s the trailer: