NERVE (Entertainment One/Lionsgate)
Dir. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, Script. Jessica Sharzer
Cast: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco
Plot: When a by-the-numbers college student signs up for Nerve, she opens a Pandora’s box of problems.
FOLKS – I’VE FOUND IT.
Not El Dorado, not proof of God, but a movie that finally broke me. In this self-appointed position which I use to glorify myself to the relative apathy of the rest of the world, maintaining one’s composure even when the film has stripped off its own and ran head-first into Narnia is supremely important. No matter what the film is, I have to give it a fair chance. But Nerve, a relatively small-budgeted teen movie made by the directors who bought you Catfish on MTV (that’s red flag number 1) and were partially incriminated in Paranormal Activity‘s 3 & 4 – how it disappoints me to know that not even being involved in a film series that shite leads to a one-way ticket back home and a state-wide blanket ban on buying any kind of filming equipment – was the 96 minute long cinematic experience that took me over the cliff-face, flying towards the rocks laughing my head off. Because this movie is so ridiculous its impossible not to laugh. I can remember the exact point I stopped taking this movie seriously – 75-ish minutes it took them, when Emma Roberts had to free herself from digital slavery through a fight to the death streamed on Twitch, staged in a literal Coloseum that the creators of this game (who are unknown and anonymous) were able to just shit into the middle of New York with nobody fucking noticing, especially considering law enforcement have no knowledge of this game at all. And that’s only the beginning of a third act that is so transcendently, so inconceivably thick, that it redefines what a movie can actually get wrong.
Approach it as parody, and you may spare yourself. Approach it as the makers of Nerve want you too, and you will be blown away by just how poorly done the film is. I had to take a step-back, mid-cinema, at multiple points, almost to tell my overheating brain that this was only a dream, that a movie like this cannot possibly exist, it would never be financed, nobody would touch a script that viciously bad with a selfie stick. And then I realized why this movie exists – the teen demographic, from the ages of 9-19, are in every Hollywood studio’s eyes the selfie stick generation. Nerve isn’t the first movie to mention ‘cool stuff’ like Snapchat, Vine and followers in every single sentence as if a nerve reflex, but it is the first movie I can remember that has managed to weaponise it. Regardless of this film’s futile attempts to present itself as a cautionary tale on social media-gone-wrong, including a sequence where Emma Roberts, faced with her demise by Strawpoll, decides the only way in which she can survive and stop Nerve itself is to deliver a speech to the awaiting, bloodthirsty masses with all the oratorical impact and booming conviction of a fifth-grade hallway monitor, Nerve ends up standing for what its trying to deride. Nerve represents the insidious vacuity that social-media stardom has become, and the movie spends half its runtime glorifying it as if a view-count is the singular barometer of personal value. Nerve has a cameo by Casey Neistat – is there anything more I can say? What more can I do?
How bad is this movie technically? For a start, that script…dear lord. It demands an autopsy, a governmental enquiry, about a million rewrites. If I was a script editor at Lionsgate asked to give pointers to writer Jessica Sharzer, I would tell her I’m just going to make a couple of changes I’d like to see, and then throw down a pack of 500 A4 sheets of paper on the desk and tell her to start the fuck again. Everything it attempts to do it fails at, miserably in fact. For instance, Nerve is definitely trying to be a cautionary tale, and that is pretty much entirely dependent on Nerve being something that could happen in the real world, that could happen tomorrow. The set-up is fine, actually not bad at all – Nerve is a kind of satanic Pokémon Go, in which people pay to watch other people ultra-voyeuristically while they attempt a series of increasingly dangerous dares for increasingly profitable rewards. That’s partially believable. But Sharzer takes it beyond the plausible towards the highest extreme possible, that previously mentioned deathmatch staged in an unexplained Coloseum. The excuse Sharzer makes for any kind of regulatory body, police or anything not putting a stop to Nerve is that its not illegal; unfortunately, this screenwriter made the easy mistake of thinking that MURDER – you know, killing somebody – is not illegal. And a plot point like that instantly breaks the illusion of Nerve-as-alternate-reality. In fact, Sharzer accidentally establishes that law enforcement in the world she has written for Nerve doesn’t work, so that would mean that Nerve has to exist in a dystopia, which it does not. I know that’s quite technical, but I have to explain just how badly Nerve muddles up its own mythos. Nerve‘s self-created mythology carries the same weight as David Brent’s self-created mythology.
The plot, by extension, is laughable. It sets up rules that the movie breaks 10 minutes later – as well as that, I feel like the filmmakers took a long, cold look at the invisible, all-powerful spectre that is common sense and spat at it (for you idiots who have actually seen this movie already: Hacking.) The characters that inhabit the plot, by extension, don’t really mean anything. Our protagonist is shy, retiring photographer Venus who, after her ‘friend’ and Nerve-player Sydney tells a stereotypical jock that Venus has a crush on him thinking its best for her, makes the decision to play Nerve. And we’re going to stop it right here – this decision isn’t just poorly set-up, or thinly motivated. This decision is backwards. This decision is so backwards that I had to hold myself back from screaming ‘WRONG’ at the screen. Emma Roberts isn’t awful in the role, she’s just wet and lifeless, like a dead fish that you’re constantly slapped round the face with. Anyway, back to the point: after signing up for the game, Venus’s first dare is to kiss a ‘stranger’ who is actually another nerve player, Ian, portrayed by Dave Franco in the way that Dave Franco portrays everybody else. They are encouraged to team up by the watchers, showing that the watchers have got a terrible eye for chemistry, as such a thing is gravely lacking here. Within hours, Franco falls in love with her, so much so that he offers to sacrifice himself at one point – and you can trust that I could barely sit up in my seat as the waves of laughter forcefully struck my abdomen. The rest of the characters are plot devices, and more like empty shells of human beings than anything else, save for one: Venus’s friend Tommy. Tommy surfs the dark net, and knows hackers. Tommy cannot stay away from Venus for the entire movie. Tommy actively stalks Venus when she leaves with Ian on the back of his motorcycle. Tommy says multiple times that he knows what is best for her, as if Venus has no independent mind of her own and that we once again live in the slave trade where people can be bought or sold. Tommy is a cunt. He is the biggest, most insipid cunt showing in theaters in 2016, and I imagine for all other years to come. If you can unearth a cunt of greater magnitude, then you will 1) complete an impressive, nigh-on impossible feat and 2) have resurrected Pol Pot.
The directorial double-team of Joost and Schulman, straight out of MTV trashtertainment, have the visual eye of Stevie Wonder, and of course approach the film so sincerely and seriously that it has the entirely opposite effect. I imagine their intentions were good, but their end-product leaves much to be desired. The whole movie has a weird colour tint, or at least that’s how I saw it: every colour felt greener than usual. Worst case scenario, the innate stupidity of Nerve has actually infiltrated my retinas. The musical score by Rob Simonsen is actually kind of decent, but its interrupted constantly by pop music with absolutely no consistency of style – it feels like a bunch of Vine songs that the artists paid to have featured. The whole movie is a feature-length Snapchat story – a Snapchat story barely keeps a person engaged for ten seconds. Nerve is 96 minutes of stunningly bad moviemaking. I won’t deny that this movie, what with its plot holes so vast I assume the script was written on one of those six-pack bits of wrapping that Lovelace’s head got stuck in in Happy Feet, has its moments of enjoyment though. The entire movie is incredibly laughable, and when I say that I do genuinely mean that you laugh, because this movie tries to be serious when the plot has totally abandoned the cause, decided to become a pixie who believes that they are in some way a custodian of Earth’s untapped magical power and has mentally left the planet behind. If Nerve happens in the real world, if the Coloseum is built, if thousands of masked teens (why they all looked like they were either doing a budget-cut Anonymous protest or preparing to do the world’s largest cosplay of The Purge is a question I’d love to get an answer to, along with why a top secret society of hackers all seem to play table tennis) populate the grand arena and bay for the blood of competitors, and if the competitors are co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer…’Hey mate, you got a spare mask I could borrow?’
BEST WATCHED: As if the entire movie was devised as a parody.
Treat this excerpt as a warning on this occasion – Emma Roberts does have a role in the upcoming Billionare Boys Club, amidst a sea of recognisable faces including Kevin Spacey, Ansel Elgort, Suki Waterhouse and even Eddie The Eagle himself, Taron Egerton. Dave Franco has a few interesting projects lined up, including a voice role in The Lego Ninjago Movie and, perhaps more incredibly, a role in the beautifully titled The Masterpiece, in which he stars amongst James Franco, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and others in a movie about the making of one of the worst-best movies of all time, The Room. If you do not know about this movie, click this, and have your world changed beyond recognition.