Silly teenagers, always getting themselves in trouble, only concerned with what’s occurring on their screens. Would any of them actually hand over all their personal information to join Nerve, a 24-hour game where players accept increasingly difficult dares for money? As players film themselves making out with strangers or dangling from construction cranes, the goal is to get the most “watchers” and be the last person standing (lose by bailing or failing) at the end of the game, flush with cash and “Insta famous.” Does that sound like something young people really would want to do?
To employ a word no teens use anymore: Duh.
Emma Roberts (a 25-year-old who is perpetually 18) stars as Vee, your classic wallflower afraid to take risks. She’s goaded into playing Nerve by her wild friend Sydney (Emily Meade) and almost immediately gets dared to team up with Ian (Dave Franco). They make a good combination until, of course, the game gets away from Vee and things spiral.
“Nerve” is skillfully directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the team that brought you “Catfish” and “Paranormal Activity” parts 3 and 4. The whole thing is slick, stylized and electric, employing point-of-view shots and phone footage to make you feel voyeuristically complicit. Pulsing soundtrack choices like Halsey’s “Hurricane” add crucial doses of Millennial realism.
The best thing about the film is its concept, which slides 2016 ideals under a microscope. Online anonymity feeds mob mentality, and social media exhibitionism leads to a lust for fame. Like “The Hunger Games,” “Nerve” serves as a parable for the aggressive online culture that shapes our lives.
Unfortunately, “Nerve” doesn’t have the restraint to be subtle, and its interesting premise dissolves into laughably obvious metaphors. “Take off your mask! What’s your name?” Vee shouts at watchers who are anonymous behind both their screen names and the bandanas that cover their faces.
For a while, “Nerve” is self-aware about its silliness, but then it starts to take everything very seriously and the wheels come off. When Vee complains that she was tired of being Sydney’s sidekick, Ian says, “You don’t seem like anyone’s sidekick.” Except that she just got off the back of your motorcycle, bro.
“Nerve” is quick and suspenseful throughout, never lagging for even a second. But a moral gray area turns into a sermon, and the movie doesn’t give you enough to think about to keep you from pulling out your phone afterward.
Cast: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Emily Meade.
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman.
Screenwriter: Jessica Sharzer.
A Lionsgate release. Running time: 96 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.