(USA) Sus­pense/Thriller. Di­rected by Henry Joost and Ariel Schul­man. Star­ring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade. Cat­e­gory IIB, 96 min­utes. Opened Sep 1.

HK Magazine - - FILM -

How cor­rupted are the teens of today? That’s the age-old ques­tion. Be­fore, the threat was sex, drugs and rock and roll; th­ese days it’s the pocket-sized com­puter that grants them ac­cess to ev­ery bit of in­for­ma­tion known to man. And if we were to fol­low the con­cern-trolling spec­u­la­tions of what some adults think is hap­pen­ing to teenagers, per­haps we would be­gin to en­vi­sion the world of “Nerve.”

In this new teen techno-thriller, Venus “Vee” Del­monico (Emma Roberts) is a shy artis­tic teenager whose so­cial cir­cle is ob­sessed with a new on­line game, in which “play­ers” per­form com­mu­nity-sourced dares and col­lect “watch­ers” for a cash in­cen­tive. Egged into go­ing from a watcher to a player, Vee’s first chal­lenge is to kiss a stranger, Ian (Dave Franco), an­other player—and the sec­ond is to hop on his mo­tor­bike and go with him to New York City. With ev­ery dare com­pleted, money gets wired to her bank ac­count. But the stakes get higher, from the fairly in­nocu­ous to a stom­ach-drop­ping scene on a lad­der sus­pended high above an apart­ment build­ing.

Through the lens of direc­tors Henry Joost and Ariel Schul­man (whose last film to­gether, “Cat­fish,” pro­duced both a cul­tural fas­ci­na­tion and a verb), New York is lit like the in­side of a club, fre­netic with LEDs and sound­tracked by ef­fer­ves­cent break­beats. The vir­tual world fuses seam­lessly into the phys­i­cal one: Shots in­con­spic­u­ously move from stan­dard movie camera pans into first per­son per­spec­tive into found footage. Watch­ers start as num­bers ro­tat­ing on the side of a mo­bile screen and later ap­pear as friends at par­ties, or strangers hand­ing them mys­te­ri­ous brown bags.

Like Bri­tish TV show “Black Mir­ror,” “Nerve” takes a few per­va­sive char­ac­ter­is­tics of so­ci­ety’s re­la­tion­ship to tech­nol­ogy and spec­u­lates about the worst pos­si­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of those char­ac­ter­is­tics. In this case, it’s our ob­ses­sion with spec­ta­cle and de­sire for im­me­di­ate so­cial val­i­da­tion. But un­like “Black Mir­ror,” the as­sump­tions it makes about peo­ple cre­ate un­bridge­able plot holes.

Th­ese as­sump­tions stem from the fact that vir­tu­ally and

IRL, “Nerve” ex­ists in a world where there’s no penalty for fairly ex­treme crimes and peo­ple get points for mak­ing pain­fully #ba­sic Wu Tang Clan ref­er­ences. In­stead, all their stu­pid­ity is ex­cused by run-of-the-mill teenage in­se­cu­rity. The film­mak­ers and Emma Roberts cling to the “mis­un­der­stood teenage wall­flower” trope, and it doesn’t seem be­liev­able; nor does her re­la­tion­ship with Dave Franco’s Ian, who might as well just be re­placed with a card­board cutout of a grin­ning Dave Franco for 40 per­cent of the film. They aren’t nec­es­sar­ily bad ac­tors or lack­ing chem­istry—their char­ac­ters just don’t have enough emo­tional depth to war­rant their ac­tions.

Af­ter all, we know that smart­phones don’t cor­rupt peo­ple— mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal so­ciopaths with ex­or­bi­tant wealth cor­rupt peo­ple. And de­spite what “Nerve” would have you think, there re­ally aren’t too many of those around. The most ob­vi­ous of them is too busy los­ing a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to mess around with a smart­phone game. Teenagers are safe—at least for now. Jes­sica Wei

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