Monday, July 25, 2016

Nerve movie review.

How much of a risk taker are you? Are you one to contently sit and watch others perform the most insane daredevilry stunts imaginable, or are you one to perform those stunts yourself to earn cash? Whichever side you pick, get ready to test your Nerve.

Reclusive and nervous, Venus Delmonaco (Emma Roberts) takes very little risk in her personal life, afraid to speak to her high school crush, and reluctant to accept a position in CalArts. One day when her frustrations and peer-pressure get the better of her, she signs up for a popular online game called Nerve, in which viewers give players like her a series of escalating dares in exchange for payment. After performing her first dare in which she meets fellow player Ian (Dave Franco), viewers appear to love the chemistry between the two, leading them to perform numerous tasks together, but when tasks become more dangerous, and intentions become more sinister, the two are soon forced to find a way to escape the game, or else become prisoners of it.

Nerve is directed by found footage directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who move on from their box office successes Catfish and the Paranormal Activity sequels, and now make their first foray into traditional narrative filmmaking... unfortunately it's not a transition for the better.

As already evidenced, Nerve's primary thematic focus is based around the willingness to take chances in life, and not to be complacent with retaining the status quo and live within a bubble. The problem is I'm probably making it sound as uninteresting as the idea actually is. Everyone will likely be saying the same exact thing, but it is ironic that for a movie that's called Nerve, the movie rarely feels the desire to take any chances of its own, becoming a thoroughly predictable experience from beginning to end that yields little in the way of surprise or depth, and there's nothing the film can do with it that hasn't already been done much better previous times before, including several movies starring Jim Carrey.

The key example of this is seen in Venus herself. Commonly describing herself as living in the shadow of her pushy and condescending friend and fellow player Sydney (Emily Meade), while most of the film is dedicated to showing her transformation from timid bystander to spontaneous adventurer, the character doesn't seem to develop any new or interesting layers as she moves from set-piece to set-piece, and potentially interesting details about her personal life feel more like cheap background material than interesting personality traits, from her seemingly troubled relationship with her mother (a woefully underused Juliette Lewis), to the death of her brother that the film never actually makes an effort to explore, preferring to instead milk it for cheap sentimentality. Still, at least Emma Roberts' performance is enjoyable enough to charm the viewer through the film, even if this is in no way a star making turn for her.

But less so is her romantic lead Dave Franco, taking a step away from raunchy supporting roles in comedies like Neighbors and 21 Jump Street, and trying to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and become leading man material. The problem is that he simply doesn't accomplish that here, with the film downplaying his comedic strengths as an actor, and forcing him to play charismatic straight man. The role requires a level of intensity that he simply doesn't have, and doesn't come across as charismatic as much as bland. This is especially felt in the romance between him and Roberts, as the two share absolutely no believable chemistry with each other, and when the most important part of your movie comes across as flat and one-sided, how do you expect the audience to care about the rest of the insanity in your movie?

And oh boy, is the movie insane. Ignoring the fact that the film hand waves away the questionable legality of the site's service, the people who own and moderate it, and the fact that apparently nobody (including authorities) has even tried to disassemble the site until now, while the film is playing out its themes of taking risks, it later begins taking on the stance of a thriller, in which Vee and Ian are stalked around by watchers with camera phones, and the two of them slowly coming to acknowledge just how traumatizing their stunts actually are. However, not only does it lead to tonal inconsistencies, but the two themes clashing with each other lead to mixed signals where the film wants to have its cake and eat it, too, preaching about the hazards of these stunts that include running a motorcycle at 60 MPH blindfolded, while also glorifying the recklessness for cheap thrills.

While continually piling each preposterous scene onto the next one, Joost and Schulman's greatest error in judgment comes in the form of their directorial choices. With social media, and the nature of the anonymous watchers (looking like the Hot Topic versions of the figures from Eyes Wide Shut) being such prominent elements in the film, the directing duo begin to lace in styles lifted from their experience with found footage, with the opening scene triggering terrible Unfriended flashbacks by having Vee casually browse through her e-mails and social messaging sites, and the rest of the film using smart-phone style editing and cinematography to add some form of guerilla touch, but comes across as distracting instead with rapid-fire text messaging on the sides of the screen, as well as recreating the screen freezes and lock ups of a phone's video camera. Outside of the cheap Reznor-lite soundtrack, the film initially makes cool use out of a neon spectrum, but such lighting choices eventually wear out their welcome, leading the whole film to come across as pandering to the techno and goth crowd.

The whole film succumbs to a case akin to Now You See Me, in which it has no idea when to draw the line between switching off your brain and enjoying the stupidity, and when the filmmakers are blatantly snubbing logic altogether. However, even for as ridiculous as the movie is, if you were expecting anything similarly, gloriously dumb to come from the climax, you'll be disappointed. Not only because Joost and Schulman hastily rush through everything, but because the film leads the viewer straight into an anticlimax, showcasing an all too obvious twist, as well as expositing morals in clunky fashion, and concludes with an apathetic shrug.

Honestly, I have little idea what else to say about Nerve. I'm sure there's plenty more I'm forgetting, like annoying comic relief, thoroughly dated cardboard characters, and so on... but I'm already instantly, happily forgetting about it, which says a lot about just how much staying power this movie is going to have. It should have skipped its theatrical release altogether and gone straight to its true home on MTV.

* / *****

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