Nerve Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Rated PG-13. Opens Wednesday citywide.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are the directors behind Catfish and two of the later Paranormal Activity movies, so they have plenty of experience with online deception and the horrors of constant surveillance. That seems like it would make them the perfect filmmakers to adapt Jeanne Ryan’s young-adult novel Nerve, about a teenage girl who gets caught up in an all-encompassing online game of increasingly dangerous dares. While Joost and Schulman do their best to add some of-the-moment visual flair to the movie, the script from Jessica Sharzer isn’t nearly as dazzling, and the dull story ends up saying very little about the perils of trolling for likes on social media.
Nerve opens on a view that recalls last year’s quietly brilliant horror movie Unfriended, as teenager Vee (Emma Roberts) clicks around on her computer screen. But the visual style soon switches to something more conventional, although Joost and Schulman then periodically show the characters from a point of view somewhere inside their smart phones. Shy Vee decides to sign up as a player in the mysterious online game Nerve after her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) accuses her of being too scared to take a chance. Soon the game’s anonymous “watchers” are daring Vee to kiss handsome stranger Ian (Dave Franco) and then follow him on a series of mostly harmless tasks, including trying on an expensive dress in a department store and getting a disappointingly tasteful tattoo.
Eventually things escalate into more dangerous territory, but Nerve takes a long time to get beyond ABC Family levels of teen drama. The commentary on social media is hardly sophisticated, and the game’s completely unrealistic structure hinders the movie from saying anything of real substance. Vee’s interpersonal drama is predictable and mundane, and her romance with Ian is mostly forced (at times literally, by the game itself). By the time the game devolves into something resembling the Purge, the movie has lost whatever moral authority it pretended to have. Even then, though, the filmmakers pull their punches. They’re as hungry for likes as any of the teens in the movie.