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Review: ‘Nerve’

Are you a watcher or a player?

That’s the basic setup of the new movie “Nerve,” which is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Jeanne Ryan. At its core, “Nerve” is a smart examination of the way teenagers today communicate, which is mostly through technology, and the impact that can have on their psyche.

In “Nerve,” Emma Roberts plays high school senior Vee Delmonico, a shy, straight-arrow girl who’s too afraid to tell her mother she was accepted to Cal Arts for photography and too timid to speak to her high school crush. On the other hand, Vee’s best friend Syd is the opposite of her — outgoing, popular, and not afraid to take risks. Enter the online game Nerve, which operates through a smart-phone app, allowing users to choose to be a player or a watcher. Players, who are depicted as teens, of course, complete dares assigned to them by watchers, and for each dare they complete, money is immediately deposited into their bank accounts. Syd is in the top 10 of Staten Island’s Nerve game board. She’s in it for the fame, not the money, but after having her feelings hurt, Vee decides to break out of her comfort zone and become a player, too.

Vee immediately meets Ian (played by Dave Franco), a mysterious young man on a motorcycle, and the watchers pair them together for a series of adrenaline-fueled dares that stream live over the Internet. The dares for all players soon progress from mildly embarrassing to completely dangerous, and Vee learns the hard way that the watchers have access to all of her personal information and have the power to control her every move.

“Nerve” is set up as a thriller, and it’s certainly edge-of-your-seat entertaining enough that audiences of all ages will find it fascinating to watch. While it would be easy to boil the plot down to stupid people doing stupid things for money, the movie’s underlying message is actually a timely and good one. People do and say a lot of things on the Internet they shouldn’t and wouldn’t do or say in real life. When stripped of our identities and accountability, people can lose their inhibitions and cause serious harm to others. Nothing online is ever truly private, and this movie taps into those realities and fears to send the audience down the rabbit hole with Vee into the sinister side of social media.

So what should parents know?

“Nerve” is not for the faint of heart, as it graphically depicts teens lying beneath an approaching train, dangling from cranes on high-rises thousands of feet in the air, and riding on a motorcycle through New York traffic blindfolded at 60 mph, all on a dare.  As for sex scenes, teens are shown kissing and making out, and one girl shows her nude behind on a dare. Teens are shown drinking and partying, and there’s some mild profanity.

The plot takes a very dark turn, and adults who aren’t as familiar with the social media apps that are so popular with young people today will probably be horrified once the movie reaches its climax. Parents might find it hard to believe a game like Nerve could really exist, but does anyone remember the TV show “Fear Factor”? Not only could it exist, it has in another, more controlled form. My biggest complaint is with the movie’s climax, which felt a little preachy, even to me. Sophisticated teen audiences will probably dismiss it as being too heavy handed, but as a whole, the movie dresses its social message up in a fast-paced, flashy story that’s ultimately fun to watch.

The bottom line: “Nerve” probably won’t change the way teens interact online, but it’s an adrenaline-fueled movie that will make for a fun night at the theater if you can handle a few thrills. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity – all involving teens.