By BRUCE DENNILL
Nerve / Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman / PG13
As filmmakers try to keep pace with the constantly changing face of technology and the way teenagers – one of their most important markets – interact with it, concepts such as that played out in Nerve will become ever more central to green-lighting meetings.
While there’s still a fantasy aspect to this story, which focuses on an online game played by hundreds of risk-taking youths in New York, it’s feasible – probable, even – that something similar is currently in existence somewhere in the world, unlike, say, The Hunger Games. The concept involves an app that teens can subscribe to as either “players” or “watchers”. If you are the former, you will be given challenges by the latter – dares that, if completed, earn you money and new followers. Things start innocently enough, with players being asked to kiss stranger or moon a camera, but as the stakes get higher, so do the hazards, and players find themselves in real danger.
The film’s power lies in the understanding that both the format of the game and it’s pervasiveness in the lives of those involved don’t require much imagination to buy into. Think of the people playing Pokemon Go and wandering into traffic in pursuit of an imaginary character. Sadly, that people can be as short-sighted as the protagonists when considering their options is also entirely believable.
The effectiveness of the concept and its on-screen interpretation is undercut somewhat by the predictability of the rest of the production. There’s the girl on the fringes and the popular guy; the high school politics that drive kids to push their boundaries beyond any sensible limit; the obvious life lessons that are learned once everything goes pear-shaped. It’s all rather predictable and very Hollywood – unnecessarily glossy and with boring practicalities ignored in the service of product placement and pace.
That said, though, it’s a sleek reminder of (or introduction to, depending on how naive you are), both the impact of permanent connectedness via the internet and the danger of prioritising acceptance in that sphere rather than maintaining relationships with the flesh-and-blood inhabitants of your own community.