In the age of the reboot, remake or DC/Marvel film, an original IP is hard to find. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost have experience as directors of internet-centric media. Their most famous directorial works include Catfish and the later Paranormal Activity films. Nerve looks to push the questions that Catfish first asked into a dark and troubling universe where voyeurism is king. In a world where people can be paid huge sums to complete ‘dares’, all of it live-streamed for a digital audience that pays to watch, how far are people prepared to go to seek fame, fortune and followers?
It sounds like a unique premise. In many ways, it is. Except that it has its roots in reality. In May 2016, a lecturer was watched by more than 40,000 people on Facebook Live in a standoff with police, the end result of which culminated in his suicide. In the same month, a woman streamed her suicide on Periscope and was watched by 1,000 people, none of whom intervened. In response to those events, Periscope, Facebook, Twitter et al. were all challenged to improve methods of alerting local authorities to possible suicide attempts, crimes or cyber-bulling.
That’s what makes this film as good as it is. It challenges the viewer to think about the possibilities. Could this happen? The answer: it already is. Emma Roberts puts in a stellar performance as the traditional ‘Watcher’ who is cast into the game of Nerve following a series of events that ends with her embarrassment. She links up with Dave Franco who plays a character with a seemingly blank history and has become something of an internet sensation for his skill and bravado in completing dares.
As the two join forces and Vee (Emma Roberts) becomes evermore engrossed in the game of Nerve, the reality of what Nerve is becomes apparent. Watcher or Player? Watcher or Player? The mantra of the game’s slogan lingers throughout the film. It’s not just about these two characters chasing an adrenaline high. It’s about the people who watch other people’s lives through a screen. It’s about the people who risk their lives chasing digital fame, the next follower on Instagram, Twitter.
It’s rare that a film that was released at the same time as The BFG, Finding Dory and Suicide Squad could even look to compete. Schulman and Joost’s film does more than just compete. It blows them out of the water. It is an two hour festival of adrenaline, madness and thrill. This has easily become one of the films of the summer and, even the likes of Star Wars: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them weren’t being released later in the year, it could easily be film of the year.
If you want a film that caters to the digital-obsessed audience, a film that challenges and forces you to think about the consequences of climbing down the viral rabbit hole, this is the film for you. Forget reboots and remakes of classic films. Movie studios, take note. This is what a film needs to be about. This is what we need more of.