Film’s fascination for destruction of humankind by the cold grips of technology is something that doesn’t need much of a pretext. It’s a tried and tested recipe that’s produced numerous hits and even more misses in the most imaginative ways possible.
In the recent years, however, a more relevant source of relatable horror has crafted itself into a very nifty sub-genre of a dystopian verse where social media is the primary power source and the value of your online presence is the most important commodity. Pieces like Catfish (2010) & Black Mirror (2011) are a few that might pique the interests of an intelligent viewer.
Cyber-thrillers are catching up and boy are they coming fast! The directors of Catfish, Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman delivered a fresh new movie this year, titled Nerve. Nerve is vaporwave meets high school love meets cyberpunk.
The film begins with the login screen of the protagonist Venus Delmonico (Emma Roberts) affectionately called Vee and we get a glimpse into her private world with the screen capture style; so 2013 right? as she navigates through different popular apps, we are made aware that she’s just been accepted into Cal Arts, a rather quick character background exposition. She’s got a small circle of friends and she isn’t exactly the most popular girl on the block. The mood is soon established with a scene change to her high school where she sticks out like a lost hipster amongst Cheerleaders and Jocks. Her popular friend, the head cheerleader, is the focus of everybody’s attention and she sure loves it. During the cheer drill, a fast tempo section crescendos to silence when she flashes her bare derrière to the whole football stadium and all this is live streaming through her own phone.
Welcome to Nerve, the new social media sensation that is basically an open source user controlled “truth or dare game, without the truth element” which is explained by the Stephen Hawking voice engine on the start up screen. The film tackles a dark theme with a very casual approach. All the cool kids are doing it, so Vee is seen contemplating in front of her computer whether or not to sign up for this adventure that would most certainly transform her life. The game allows the user to either be a ‘watcher’ or a ‘player’. The watchers create the dares for the players in real time who in turn carry out absurd and sometimes shameful tasks for a promised sum of money, and good money at that.
She signs up and there’s no turning back. Her first dare is to go to a diner and kiss a stranger for five seconds. the stranger, is badass biker Ian (Dave Franco) who happens to be a player of Nerve himself. She kisses him without any hesitation that lasts way longer than the required time. Music fades in and the ambience fades out; beautiful people problems. By now the watcher community is wetting themselves with this new union and decides to send this instant crush couple for their upcoming dares as a pair. Vee mounts herself behind Ian on his neon glazed motorcycle and baby it’s like lightening in a bottle. The duo rides across New York City which has had a major neon makeover that lends to the vaporwave theme quite extensively.
One of Vee’s friends Tommy, who is a stereotypical nice guy (friend-zoned) is the only character in the movie who seems upset by all this. So he puts on his sleuth hat and discovers that Ian has a few dark secrets that could put Vee in the direct line of danger.
The rest of the movie follows them as their dares turn darker and the true nature of the keyboard warriors surface; their voyeuristic desires that can bravely by expressed through the masks of anonymity.
As film making goes, the treatment is very colourful. Did I mention vaporwave? The colours are neon as hell and a large part of the cinematography is channeled through the front facing camera of the various devices the characters use. The overuse of popular hipster music (ah the irony) at the turn of every scene gets annoying after a point. Subtlety is a concept that the film makers clearly vetoed. Where the film lacks is the unnatural flow of dialogue and weak delivery. Not to mention the jump in tempo and mood of the music which happens very frequently. A few factual errors and hollywood physics which can be overlooked. But then in one scene, Tommy accesses the dark web by typing in the url ‘tor_5i7://drkweb.aruba’ for god’s sake.
In case you miss it, there’s a super short cameo by a popular youtuber which feels like it was just a ploy to use that clip in the trailer to woo prospective viewers.
That being said, Nerve scores well in the concept department, the story is quite engaging. One has to admit that the suspense buildup really gets you to the metaphorical seat-edge area that movie goers really seem to like. Hit or Miss? that’s for the watcher to decide, but it’s definitely worth a shot.
PS – The style of the end credits come as a sweet after taste as it is very fitting for this sub genre.