A cautionary tale about a high school teenager working out who she is and the dangers of being hardwired to the internet, this dark web thriller has a refreshingly relevant edge, aided by charismatic performances by leads Dave Franco and Emma Roberts.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (co-directors of Catfish), and based on a book by Jeanne Ryan, the story begins relatively sedately as Vee (Roberts), a restrained and shy Staten Island high school senior, decides to join the latest online craze, a game called "Nerve".
Nerve takes the old-fashioned concept "Truth or Dare", and ditches the truth part. Members sign up as an anonymous "watcher" or an active "player", with players completing and filming outrageous dares put to them by the watchers, in exchange for money.
Vee's first challenge is to kiss a stranger in a restaurant; the guy she picks, the mysterious Ian (Franco), also happens to be playing the game.
They're a hit with the watchers, who then team them together for what are at first quite fun, silly dares. By the time the film hits the 45-minute mark, the risks associated with the dares have begun to rise, and a thrilling motorcycle ride through New York City implies things are only going to get crazier.
The dares are a mix of hold-your-breath action and plain uncomfortable-to-watch scenes. It's a simple but clever premise, with the dares broken up by typical teenage relationship woes between Vee and her two best mates Sydney (Emily Meade) and Tommy (Miles Heizer). One of the cool things about this film is, for a film about high schoolers, it never sets foot inside a classroom.
As we head to the grand finale it falls a little flat. The transition from a relatively believable scenario in which the Pokemon Go generation join an online game, to an implausible Hunger Games-like ending is a stretch too far.
As entertainment goes, Nerve is fun due to the chemistry of its leads, but it's what it has to say that is where it makes its mark. It captures the issues of merging our real and digital lives, the players' obsession with fame at any cost, and, most terrifyingly, the way watchers suspend their moral code to manipulate players into harming themselves. The film itself is unlikely to linger long in the mind, but hopefully these chilling thoughts will.
Cast: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Emily Meade
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Running Time: 96 mins
Rating: M (Adult themes)
Verdict: Relevant and fun, but needs a stronger ending.