The jittery, colorful “Nerve” is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who explored the complicated nuances of digital existence – and invented a euphemism – in the 2010 documentary “Catfish.” “Nerve” is very different, but no less concerned with the consequences of exposing yourself to mysterious forces on the internet.
The movie feels like existing inside a smartphone, as the actors like, swipe, tap and livestream their way through a game. The game is called Nerve; it’s truth or dare on steroids for millions of online viewers. It demands: Are you a Watcher or a Player? Reserved Staten Island teen Vee (Emma Roberts) signs up as a Player after a blowup with her wild best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). On her first assignment, she connects with Ian (Dave Franco), and the horde demands that the two team up to tackle their dares, which escalate dangerously.
Roberts and Franco are just winsome enough to serve as the romantic leading couple, but they’re eclipsed by the far more charismatic and ruthless players Sydney and Ty (Colson Baker, aka rapper Machine Gun Kelly). They capture the edgy desperation that the game draws out in the thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies who just don’t know where to draw the line.
As “Nerve” builds to a roaring Thunderdome climax, it starts to lose its grip. But the ride is a neon-saturated teenage dream, high on first kisses and digital hearts. Joost, Schulman and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer clearly know their internet culture and jargon, and they demonstrate the way in which technology has slid into our lives. The future is now – we’re here, there’s no dystopian world where Nerve might exist, because obviously, we’re already playing the game.
Cast: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (thematic material involving dangerous behavior, sexual content, language, drug content, drinking, nudity, all involving teens)
Raleigh: Brier Creek, Carmike 15, Grande, North Hills, Wakefield. Apex: Beaver Creek. Cary: CineBowl, Crossroads. Chapel Hill: Silverspot, Timberlyne. Durham: Northgate, Southpoint, Wynnsong. Garner: White Oak. Morrisville: Park Place, Park West. Smithfield: Smithfield.