Nerve (Movie Review): The Responsibility of Observors

So, for once, I’ve actually watched a film on its premiere date, completely by accident.  Now I’m able to tell you whether this movie is worthy of your weekend, or worthy of a first-week box-office flop.  Nerve‘s a teen movie (woah — I’m a teen!), so I can also size up how realistic and how relevant it is to our internet generation.

For an overall feel of the movie without major spoilers, read ’til you see SPOILERS AHEAD and a line.

Here’s a general gist of the movie since searching “Nerve” on Google shows more neuroscience than cinema.  Also, the trailer outlines most of the plot points (probably more than is prudent):

Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior whose friends egg her on about being anti-adventurous.  This pushes her to join an online reality game with increasingly lucrative and dangerous dares.  I can only describe it as a mix between truth-or-dare, Pokemon Go, and “Do it for the Vine” culture.  As she completes dares as a “player,” she attracts a following.  This powerful yet anonymous collective of “watchers” determines the players’ dares.  During one of her dares Venus pairs up with mysterious Ian (Dave Franco) to win fame and fortune…

Overall Verdict: For me, a highly enjoyable film, but I’m not exactly a picky movie-watcher.  I was quite emotionally invested, stressing and gasping and even laughing throughout.  It’s fast-paced with barely a dull moment (I had a hard time deciding when to go to the bathroom amid all the drama!  Hint: go when the main character gets punched).  It’s definitely less gimmicky and smarter than I expected.  Most of all, Nerve was relatable to me as a teen, and I admire its message.

Worst Misgivings: Slightly preachy ending (though the message is 100% valid).  Male characters I don’t care about.  A crappy romance throughout.

Aesthetic:  The movie has a great soundtrack.  The songs are popular enough to be recognized, but alternative enough to feel satisfyingly hipster.  Nerve unashamedly uses bright neon colors to achieve its modern feel.  It also uses interesting and creative effects to convey the virtual online world teens live in.

Spoilers ahead!  Do not read past this point if you want to watch spoiler-free!


  • Venus Delmonico: despite her name and precocious nature, she is what so many of us are: repressed, fearful, thirsty, and awkward.  As a fumbling and socially-cringey character, she represents high school better than the rest of the cast, who seem more like college party animals.  (Or maybe that’s just what teen NYCers do??  This lame suburban chick is not cool enough for this review).  She is susceptible to earthly pleasures like fame and money, but she has strong morals when it counts.
  • Ian: I’m not much for the mysterious/troubled past/motorcycle n’ leather type character.  Could’ve been better.
  • Tommy: I dislike this guy a lot.  I just don’t like people who can’t get over the fact that they’re friend-zoned.  He’s not a full-on jerk, I mean he’s a decent person, but I’m not interested in watching jealousy, desperation, and possession (“Does he always tell you what to do?” Ian even asks Venus).  At the end, my friend turned to me and said, “The relationship with Tommy was unresolved!!  I wanted them to get together.”  It was unresolved, I agreed.  “I wanted him to get friend-zoned even harder,” I said harshly.maxresdefault1
  • Sydney: I’m impressed with how they handled this.  She could’ve been a 100% bitch who suffers a humiliating fate that we cheer on.  Though she’s selfish, she also cares about Venus and proves her worth as a friend at the end.  We do sympathize with her as she faces her fear of heights.  So, if you think about it, she’s a pretty multi-dimensional character.  And not the target of typical slut-shaming and girl-on-girl hate, after all.  That makes sense: she’s not the antagonist here, the game Nerve and its culture is.  I thought her reconciliation with Venus at the end was actually more realistic than a catty split.  High school friendships are complicated and somewhat unconditional: even with fights and conflicting moral viewpoints, they tend to stick together — as Sydney says in the beginning, “because I know you.”
  • Liv and Azhar (Venus’ and Tommy’s friends): Wow!  One of the only drops of color in this predominantly white film.  I’m also singling these two out because I recently binge-watched them on Orange is the New Black and seeing them on screen triggered an emotional reaction.  Though the diversity in the film was low, no stereotypes were used: Liv is a social butterfly with more screen time than I expected for an Asian person, and Azhar is a computer brainiac.  And still a lesbian. Let it be law that Samira Wiley should rightfully be lesbian in all roles she plays.

The Romance: I get that they’re a sexy couple but, still, ugh.  In the movie they know each other for less than 24 hours.  They are strangers to each other.  So I’m just supposed to care because chemistry?

so dumb

Can’t just throw two attractive people together: gotta earn our emotional investment.

It’s actually kind of ironic because the movie ridicules shipping culture by showing how fanatically the Watchers instantly pair up Ian and Vee.  Yet, as an audience, we are expected and baited to do the same thing.  A well-known moment in the movie is when they strip down to their underwear  to complete a dare without shoplifting.  This is so gimmicky and cheap.  I guess if you’re really creative you could say that it’s commentary on how internet culture is obsessed with forcing a sexual tone on female/male relationships.  I guess.  (Props to Vee for not having matching underwear though, that’s realistic.  And TBH ((well, maybe it’s because I’m a straight girl)), the scene seemed more gratuitous on Dave Franco’s part).

AT LEAST they never say the “L” word.  At that point I would’ve been hurling.

More Nitpicking: 

  • In both scenes when Sydney and then Vee walk across the ten-story ladder, WHY didn’t they just crawl on their hands and knees???  Some dumbass on the other side shouted “you’re not gonna get across in time you have to stand!”  In what world is balancing on our honestly useless two sticks called legs on thin rods of metal more effective than gripping with your hands and supporting with your knees???
  • The time period of the film is now, as Venus is in the Class of 2020, same as me.  Though I related hardcore to her college stress, this is actually kind of gimmicky because the technology in the film is clearly a couple years down the road, but it’s just something you’ll have to ignore.
  • Ian discloses that the Watchers instructed him to eat at a specific diner with Vee’s favorite book in hand, where he would meet Vee and attract her attention.  This is actually more disturbing and confusing upon further thought.  Obviously the majority of watchers started to ship Ian and Vee after their kiss, but at least some of them “shipped” them beforehand…before they even met.  This proves that Nerve is more calculating and insidious than even most watchers admit.  For a bunch of bored teens, they are extremely organized and powerful to pre-arrange such a specific meet up.  It’s disturbing and perhaps needed more explanation (or a rewatch on my part). 

Realism: I suppose the scary part of the movie is that, technically, it is entirely realistic.  I griped earlier about how the tech was too advanced for today, 2016, but we actually have everything at our disposal to recreate Nerve: data collection, GPS tracking, video sharing, hacking, and even drones.  Hell, the movie even explains open-source hacking and shows glitchy video quality to convey that the technology of Nerve is just within our reach.

The film is most striking for its demonstration of internet and dare culture: how the stakes escalate, the followers become invasive and creepy, and the thirst for fame becomes rabid.  It all culminates to here:

The Theme: Nerve warns against internet fame and mass data collection.  If that weren’t enough, in its final minutes, it turns against us.  The Watchers.

Vee paints the watchers as hypocrites by pointing out that they expect the Players to show “nerve,” yet the watchers themselves goad them into desperation behind anonymous usernames.  Disturbingly, even this does not stop the majority of watchers from coldly sentencing her to death.  It only sinks in when Vee’s friends hack into the game, display “You are an accomplice to murder” and prompt them to sign out.

Even if you aren’t going to see the movie, teens — and everyone who uses the internet — need to understand this important lesson.  As a single random person online, it is hard to see that we matter in the sphere of internet culture.  But in fact, you do — we all do.  Collectively, we are responsible for the content we see.  The internet amplifies and exacerbates the “bystander effect” with anonymity and vastness of the digital world.  As bystanders, we are complicit in what we watch.  

We get shitty gossip article advertisements because we can’t resist clicking them.  Prank videos become increasingly cruel because we watch them and create an incentive for humiliation.  Strangely, the movie’s lesson reminded me of Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk, in which she talks about cyberbullying and says “Online, we have an compassion deficit and an empathy crisis.”

In sum: come for the attractive and talented cast, the thrill, and the interesting concept.  Stay for the profound lesson.

Let me know if you watched the movie, your thoughts, or if you’re planning to!




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