Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are the creators of Catfish, as well as two Paranormal Activity films. In their latest, Nerve, they return to the world of social commentary and criticism of our society’s obsession with social media.
Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior who can’t bring herself to tell her mother that she wants to leave the East Coast for the California Institute for the Arts. When her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) embarrasses her publicly, she’s lured into the world of Nerve, an online game where watchers provide votes (and money) to players who they dare to act out in the real world. Soon, escalating her dares outside of her comfort level, Vee connects with Ian (Dave Franco) and the two begin to explore romance together.
Needless to say, the thrill of Nerve is that the challenges, the dares grow more and more dangerous. Vee’s friends are more and more involved in the game, leading up to a tense finale in both the game and the film. It’s a test of Vee’s relationship with Ian, but it’s really a hard look at how we handle media in our own lives.
Several critical points of society intersect here: first, there’s a voyeuristic approach to what the watchers do, and Nerve challenges us to consider if we’re watchers or players. Second, there’s a commentary on how both watchers and players find liberation either behind the keyboard or through actions they can attribute to the votes of others. In both cases, decision-making has been bypassed and morality has been shelved in the context of ‘the game.’ In some insane way, there’s a mashup of The Social Network, The Running Man, and The Game in a way that is inventive, and yet socially alarming.
When we allow ourselves to be dictated to or by others, we fail to recognize our potential. For Vee, her life was being dictated by others (her mother, her deceased brother) even before Nerve. Whether it’s the algorithm of the game or the relational pressures of the others, there is always the temptation to give up – or give in. Nerve attempts to show us the dangers through the lens of the game, and encourages us to choose freedom of thought.