Jul 7, 2020

It's a thrilling take on the power of the Internet.


Grade: B

Directors: Henry Joost (Paranormal Activity 3, Catfish), Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3, Catfish)

Screenplay: Jessica Sharzer (Speak) from Jeanne Ryan novel

Cast: Emma Roberts (We’re the Millers), Dave Franco Neighbors)

Runtime: 1h 36m

Rating: PG-13

By: John DeSando

“The internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful society.” Noam Chomsky     

If you have the nerve to see Nerve, do not apply systems of cultural and cinematic logic to a B-thriller that mostly is concerned with the number of hits on the fictional titular Internet game.  However, if you like seeing how popular one can get on Instagram and Snapchat and the dollars to be made from hits, then this film will interest you.

If like me, you find Nerve as intriguing as I did four years ago when it first came out, then you will be rewarded from its new release on Amazon Prime with meaningful reactions to the power of electronic gamesmanship and the need at the same time to have real connections to real people. In other words, there’s more here about the almost lethal seduction of the digital world and the enduring need to connect in real time with real people.

If you came to this teen crime that is a thriller with a fantasy gaming theme expecting a literate take on the evils of the Smart Phone, you will have brief moments of enlightenment about the power of the Internet and its magnetic impact on young folk.  In Nerve, teens play a deadly game with Watchers directing the action without responsibility.

Not that the possibilities for shrewd commentary on the dangers of covert cyber surveillance are not manifold; it’s just that the heroine, Venus (Emma Roberts, nicely coming out from the shadow of her famous aunt), is too clueless about the ramifications of playing Truth or Dare on a phone with thousands of watchers zeroing in on her as Player.

Although the idea of exploring the power of the Internet through the lens of absurdity is a fascinating one, the thriller quickly becomes irrational when Ian (Dave Franco) drives his motorcycle at 60 mph with Venus guiding him through Manhattan streets blindfolded. More fantastical incidents/dares come forth with the last two doozies of improbability.  The dares culminate in a crescendo of righteousness as the world has a moment of sanity in a film that has been anything but sane.

Young adult fiction has lasting possibilities (I thought Twilight and Hunger Games would never end), but Nerve (crossed with Fear Factor) is not one of those with a lucrative future. It’s all about now in neon.

The best that can be said is it has moments of authentic terror (Ian hanging from a construction crane made me nervous, no less Vee walking a ladder between buildings ), yet it squanders the possibilities of meaningful characterizations and themes in favor of outlandish dares, none of which should pass the first security test for cybercrime.

The dares, however, are mostly scary if not realistic. Nerve should appeal to teens who like both modes, and adult audiences will not be able to turn away with fascination about at the dangers of physical harm and more importantly psychic damage from being enthralled by the electronic monster.

It’s a cautionary tail that can be enjoyed as the audience is imprisoned by another merciless monster: Covid-19. Re-released on Amazon Prime.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at