Is the young adult genre dying? It hit its high point in the early 2010s, with the culmination of both the Harry Potter and Twilight series and the beginning of the Hunger Games series, but ever since then the genre has declined pretty quickly – the Divergent and Maze Runner series have had varying degrees of success, and even the final Hunger Games film last year was a bit of a bust. Of course, more YA books are being adapted every year, but the latest might not be the genre’s saving grace.
Nerve is a risky online game of truth or dare (minus the truth of course, because where’s the fun in that?), where everything and everyone is definitely as shady as they seem, as adrenaline junkie Players are dared by online Watchers to complete increasingly risky dares in real life. But when reserved high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts) gets caught up in the addictive rush of challenges and finds herself partnered with the mysterious Ian (Dave Franco), her reputation might not be the only thing at stake.
Functioning better as a collection of daring stunts than a film, Nerve has one of the most convoluted ideas for a movie in recent memory: an evil game with a ridiculously outdated operating system, that can download any piece of information about its users, uses it to force them into ridiculous and humiliating dares? Despite a decent message about online privacy and digital dependency, Nerve feels less Snowden and more Spy Kids: Game Over, and when the internal logic of the film starts to falter and makes you question large sections of the film (and even cringe at times), the message about technology ends up getting lost in the fanfare. And then, just as we start to understand and appreciate what is clearly a unique approach to technology, it turns conventional on us, with an ending that both lets us down and lectures us about our online profiles.
Yet the high stakes dares work well within the film; from blindfolded driving to train track hijinks, the stunts make you hold your breath as they become increasingly dangerous, particularly as you become aware that the film isn’t afraid to take lives. The old adage of placing characters under pressure to show us who they really are works well here, and as Vee gets to know Ian better and lines are crossed between her friends we discover who they really are.
As Vee, rising star Emma Roberts does extremely well with a somewhat typical character, giving her a lot of heart but a surprisingly sharp edge. Her chemistry with Dave Franco is enjoyable as he introduces her to the world of Nerve, and the talented younger Franco excels as Ian, particularly in the darker scenes, though he isn’t given much depth. This can be said for all of the characters, and the supporting characters especially suffer, from Vee’s overworked mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis), to her typical mean girl best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) and boy-next-door friend Tommy (Miles Heizer), all of whom are working incredibly hard to give their clichéd characters something new, and not always achieving it.
Whilst succeeding as a young adult adaptation, Nerve says more about the state of young adult film of late, rather than the film itself. With strong performances and some tense, adrenaline pumping scenes, Nerve lacks depth in the areas in which it should accomplish the most: its characters and strong social media message, leaving the viewer wanting more. There’s no lack of talent in these films; what they really need is attention to detail within scripts, so we can finally get some YA films that matter.
Despite not having the most well-known cast, there are some pretty great actors in Nerve, so here’s my list of the top five films starring the cast of Nerve:
- Now You See Me – Dave Franco
- Valentine’s Day – Emma Roberts
- Orange is the New Black – Samira Wiley
- 21 Jump Street – Dave Franco
- Scream Queens – Emma Roberts
Pictures taken from IMDb.com: