In an age of grubby reality TV and 24-hour social chatter, the premise of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s voyeuristic high-stakes thriller doesn’t seem particularly far-fetched.
Based on Jeanne Ryan’s young adult novel, Nerve imagines an online game of truth or dare - minus the truth - which challenges daredevil participants to accept challenges proposed by the thousands of people who “watch” on tablets and smartphones.
These tasks vary from the simple (flashing your bottom in public) to the frankly suicidal (dangling one-handed from a construction crane for five seconds).
If fame-hungry players complete a dare within the allocated time, they are rewarded with increasing cash sums and move onto the next test, accruing followers in the process.
Failure to complete a task results in players being eliminated from the game, presuming they physically survive the ordeal.
Directors Joost and Schulman are a snug fit for the hi-tech material.
They rose to prominence in 2010 with the documentary Catfish about bogus Facebook profiles and employ a mosaic of text conversations, video screens and on-screen usernames to capture real-time suspense as players intersect and gleefully sabotage each other to ensure safe passage to the final.
High school student Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Emma Roberts) is preparing to turn down her place at California Institute of the Arts because it would upset her mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis).
Vee’s reluctance to stand up for herself infuriates best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), who is an avid participant of Nerve. She goads Vee into signing up as a player.
For her first dare, Vee is told to kiss a stranger for five seconds and she puckers up with a handsome diner customer called Ian (Dave Franco).
To the chagrin of pal Tommy (Miles Heizer), who has a crush on Vee, she joins forces with Ian to undertake more lucrative and perilous dares on his motorcycle.
“The second I feel uncomfortable, I’m out,” Vee informs her partner.
Nerve exploits the insecurity of a generation that believes self-worth hinges on strangers clicking a Like button.
Scriptwriter Jessica Sharzer establishes a brisk tempo, but gradually loosens her grasp on plausibility by introducing double-bluffs and hackers into the volatile mix.
She does accomplish a cute nod to Pretty Woman though when the lead actress - niece of Julia Roberts - walks into a high-end boutique and is told a shimmering green dress is “very expensive” by a sneering sales assistant. Emma Roberts is an instantly likeable heroine, who gets caught up in the hoopla of the game and sacrifices precious friendships in the process.
Franco has charm and swagger, and the fizzing on-screen chemistry with his co-star is a pleasing distraction from some of the film’s Herculean leaps in logic.