With the increase of obsession with our mobile phones, Nerve comes onto the scene describing the thrill of platforms created by technology. And its detriment. Based on a YA novel that details an entire system, Nerve explores the dark side of observation and participation through technology.
In chat, we discuss our perspectives on Nerve. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
jennism (Jenn Ng): Today, we’re going to talk about Nerve, a film based on a YA novel by Jeanne Ryan published September 2012. Starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.
taiche (Chris Tai): Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the people behind Catfish: The Movie
jennism: I believe that Ariel also was part of Catfish TV series on MTV. Now that says something already about the movie.
taiche: It’s going to be about people on the internet, and people faking their identities? That’s what Catfish seemed to be all about.
jennism: More about how technology changes the social dynamic. And it’s clear that the directors are intimate with the implications what technology can offer. Especially when most people expect that it will be positive, but the consequences are often forgotten
taiche: Right off the bat, the movie starts with a desktop view of an Apple, starting up apps like Spotify and Skype. Reminded me of Unfriended.
jennism: We both haven’t read the book, but reading the synopsis briefly, it seems that the movie has deviated from the original to be fast-paced and engaging. It’s right from that first screen that we know that everything is moving fast. It sets the tone for following the characters from screen to screen as their lives are changing right with the game.
taiche: At the same time, I can see all the YA trappings and the appeal… shy introverted protagonist finds love and popularity and learns to take risks by participating in a competition
jennism: So Vee (Emma Roberts) is essentially the Duff and is motivated to break out of that
taiche: Appealing somewhat in the vein of The Hunger Games
jennism: It fits the same tropes: an individual trying to break out of good girl expectations, meets a boy, and tries to survive with being who she wants to be
taiche: OK, so sometimes a movie with all those tropes is a bad thing, did you feel that it was predictable or trope-ish as you watched it?
jennism: It is expected for a YA novel and so it translates to the movie. What was more appealing to me, being in our 30s and really experiencing the Internet in middle school, was how technology changed our world. What was fascinating was that I knew all the subtle motivations behind why people wanted likes, why people felt compelled to show off, why people wanted to watch
taiche: It’s certainly timely, with the explosion of Pokemon Go and popularity of apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
jennism: It’s apparent in the snapchats, the instagrams, the facebooks, the periscope, the twitches, the twitter. And of course, facebook live and youtube. At the core, everyone, especially a teenager, is chasing the dream of being liked by everyone else
taiche: I thought the movie really hit that core element… people want to be liked, to be popular, to be highly regarded, and the internet is the easiest source
jennism: Yes! And location-based technology has only gotten better. I remember working on a location-based project in college in 2004 and thinking that the concepts were really cool like friend locator and ads. But I thought that nobody would use it
taiche: Though the game seems to take place in the *slight* future… the prevalence of recording others and paying to watch challenges hasn’t quite arrived.
jennism: But somehow the world has changed dramatically since then. Location-based applications are common. And with faster connections like LTE and better phones for capturing video, all of this is simply possible. I think that it has arrived in the form of Twitch, but it hasn’t become fully mobile yet. The ability to do that with enough battery power and sufficient server support isn’t quite there. What was interesting is that they addressed a few immediate plot questions like why the game couldn’t be shut down or how the game continues. That plot point helped tie the plot nicely
taiche: Well, logistics aside… did you find the game itself plausible? Are you a watcher or a player?
jennism: Having seen the movie, definitely a watcher. I already have done the “dares” in (safer) scavenger hunts and don’t need to prove myself anymore. As they say, it’s for the kids
taiche: One thing that I appreciated, interface and presentation aside, was that this was a fleshed out system…
jennism: Do you think that someone or multiple people sat in a room and thought about how this would actually work? What’s interesting is that in the novel, apparently a common complaint were the stakes weren’t high enough. The rewards were things like a scholarship and similar. In the book, it actually took place over multiple days. In the movie, it was just one evening. With the building tension and the stakes getting so high that the ultimate price is death
taiche: Collect your social media presence, make it public, let watchers vote on potential dares, charge people for the privilege of following people’s feeds. The privacy invasion factor just seemed too extreme however. One fingerprint, and you’re agreeing to turn over all your online records?
jennism: What was fascinating too was the visualization of mobile UI on screen. Of putting the camera in the phone. Rather than just floating bubbles on the screen, so that we really feel the moment. Even though the text is reversed, we know what it says. We know that it says DARE. We know that it says $3000. And we’re right in the head of the character rather than as a viewer who is omniscient
taiche: Although my first issue with the movie was… WAIT, where did she get an Apple laptop with a touchscreen? I was actually a little sad we didn’t see more of that throughout the movie
jennism: Suspension of disbelief
taiche: It started out with inserting us right into the desktop of her computer
jennism: I think that watching someone type doesn’t have the same feeling as a touchscreen. Like right now, buttons aren’t as interesting as a touchscreen
taiche: And all these floating UI elements… but it generally strayed away from that immersion as the movie went on
jennism: Whatever the case, the use of the visualizations was well-done
taiche: But I did enjoy the landscape shots of New York with the player indicators displayed
jennism: Yes, especially when BAIL appeared and they went off the map
taiche: YOU BAIL. YOU FAIL.
I thought the “thrill” curve was done fairly well… elevating the danger and challenge between dares. One thing I had trouble with was the whole underground element… that law and authority had no way to get involved
jennism: It was again the “suspension of disbelief”. It’s not like the cops could stop it anyway even if they got involved. What’s fascinating is that it’s reflective of our society already. It’s not a crime—any of this. It’s kids just doing stupid dares.
taiche: That they could create this immensely popular app that all the millennials were using, access bank accounts and online presences, create the infrastructure of NERVE, yet couldn’t be policed at all. Too much “anarchy” involved.
jennism: Exactly. It was odd though that the watchers, the players were…all millenials. There was barely anybody above 30
taiche: I also wondered how it moved from city to city.. it was mentioned in the movie that it previously took place in Seattle.
jennism: Yeah, that didn’t make sense, but in the end, did it matter?
taiche: Well, it was based on a YA novel… people over 30 tend not to be in the spotlight, so to say.
jennism: It was assumed that it was some amorphous mass that moved from place to place
taiche: I actually tuned out Vee’s mom throughout the movie. She didn’t seem necessary
jennism: She was there to show that Vee was a good kid. What a waste of Juliette Lewis though. An empty plotline about what happened to Vee’s brother was not resolved
taiche: Same with the guy friend, Tommy? He just dragged down scenes and held up the plot
jennism: Yes, Tommy. According to the novel synopsis, he was supposed to be the lovesick friend or the nice guy. In the movie, he felt like a plot device to find a resolution to the conflict
taiche: Eh I could see that… just the “nice guy”. FRIENDZONE.
jennism: Yet he was so loyal! In some way, he was the viewers’ “chorus”
taiche: So Emma Roberts and Dave Franco team up… and they go on their challenges
jennism: Challenges that for Vee are out of character, but the thrill and the adrenaline are so addictive
taiche: I have to admit, I did feel a bit of a rush watching some of their dares.
jennism: Like riding blindfolded on a motorcycle at 60 mph? It’s true though when you’re coerced that heavily, you will do it
taiche: Yeah, enjoyed that sequence, though his bike’s acceleration was middling at best.
jennism: Middling??? How is it supposed to be like? They were riding through NYC traffic
taiche: Should have easily been able to hit 60 if they gunned the motor.
taiche: So the dares start out all fun and games, but predictably, they start to turn a bit dark
jennism: So in the book, supposedly some dares were sexual in nature. In the movie, they must have taken those out
taiche: I was surprised that the protagonists didn’t seem to have a clue that the dares were crowdsourced and public.
jennism: Because I could imagine that it just wouldn’t play well in the current environment. Oh good point. No detail was given on the mechanics of how the dares were created
taiche: Mmm, I didn’t think they wanted to “go there”… it easily had sexual overtones.
jennism: They were just magically created. No moderator or voting system, except toward the end
taiche: They talked about how the game learns about your fears and weaknesses (like a phobia of heights) and preys on them to create dares.
jennism: Yes, going there would have made the movie into horror. And in all of it, the dares still were innocent. Not deeply a violation of character. Trespassing, possessing a firearm?
taiche: But, one dare that started to ring false was the one after the 60mph chase… when Ian, Dave Franco’s character is apparently given a dare to get Vee to start a fight with her friend Sydney.
jennism: That was the weakest
taiche: That he hides from her.
jennism: That fell into teenage drama. Which isn’t really that interesting except for forcing some blowup between the two so that it could be recorded on camera
taiche: Yet, everyone watching the game in the movie should be aware of what the challenges are, especially the ones at the watch party they go to. How did you feel about the relationships in the movie?
jennism: And proving that Vee could be “better” than Sydney
jennism: There was something that Vee said during the fight that people peak in high school. I don’t get the feeling that they’ll stay in touch
taiche: Certain types peak in HS…
jennism: Maybe Vee with Ian for a bit, but seriously, they don’t know each other. Not just from one night
taiche: But especially from the point of unpopular kids… you want to believe that you’ll rise beyond the high school experience while those that excelled, will have already reached their maximum potential.
jennism: It’s a trope, but a trope is based on reality
taiche: Chemistry between Vee and Ian, believable, existing? Or no?
jennism: Unclear, but good enough for a movie about teenagers
taiche: I didn’t think the acting was spectacular by any means… no one had to really stretch. But yes, for a movie about teenagers, it worked.
jennism: Thrilling. Adrenaline-pumping. After watching Nerve, I felt suddenly uncomfortable with playing any location-based games. Or anything that sucked my information
taiche: Any thoughts on Ty, the other NERVE player in the end?
jennism: It didn’t feel complete
taiche: Or how the NERVE game eventually played out?
jennism: The way the conclusion comes about is quite appropriate
taiche: My biggest gripe was probably the endgame.
jennism: It’s not about stopping the servers. It’s not about breaking the game platform. It’s about the users of the platform and their accountability. When does it stop being fun? The moment that you stop getting joy from it. The moment that you start feeling guilt and shame
taiche: I did appreciate the belief that was spread that the users were an accessory to crimes that occured in the game.
jennism: Those are strong motivators for people to move away and avoid things that hurt
taiche: Watchers were not just watchers, they were active participants.
jennism: That lent a nice twist to the story. Because it says something about mob mentality. Especially with the public shaming events that go on, especially on Twitter and Facebook and sexual harassment of female figures
taiche: It added a bit of noble intention from the hackers. I just didn’t like the unrealistic planning that set events in motion for the final.
jennism: The arena for the gun? the final showdown? The final boss!
taiche: Vee’s plan seemed too farfetched. Some twists in that sequence just came out of nowhere.
jennism: And how did she gain trust with Ty? Just an extra twist, but it wasn’t satisfying
taiche: Yeah, wanted to avoid some spoilers, but the Ty stuff… yeeugh
jennism: A villian
taiche: And so the game ends, and everyone lives happily ever after?
jennism: We want to believe that
taiche: Would you have expected NERVE to continue?
jennism: So did you have any feelings on how you would approach technology as a result of seeing Nerve? In the books, readers were left with a cliffhanger and so expected a sequel. In this case, one movie was good enough
taiche: Oh yeah, I would guard my privacy settings all the much more. But at some point, I would be willing to take on some dares for $$$.
jennism: I mean, did we learn our lesson? Did we learn our lesson???
taiche: Yeah, I don’t foresee a sequel. I think it’ll do ok though.
Yeah, the internet can be a source of fame and fortune, but dangers, just like in the real world, lurk about.
jennism: So overall, what did you think? SeeETThere?
taiche: SeeETThere: 7/10 Lighthouses
Good thrills, a fun ride, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
jennism: Overall, it was an entertaining romp. I am glad that the directors took some liberty from the novel and made it more fast-paced, especially tying it closely with the way technology has really changed recently
SeeETThere: 7/10 Lighthouses also!
taiche: I thought the timeliness really helped serve it well. Alright we finally agree for once!
jennism: Especially with Pokemon Go. There’s a movie tie-in coming soon
taiche: It’s not a franchise-starter, and I appreciate that it wasn’t forced to be.
jennism: Kids, go see it
taiche: A good ride for the younger crowd, See It There with your millennial pals. They can explain to you the appeal of the game.
jennism: I would probably be heavily affected by it when I was a teenager
taiche: Older folks can be more swayed by David Fincher’s The Game.
jennism: How about you? Would this be something appealing to you as a teenager?
taiche: Yeah, probably… I was one of those types that had no hesitations about doing challenges. There used to be a running joke that I’d do almost anything for a $5 bill.
jennism: Well the game of course. But I meant, the movie. As a teenager, I would not play
taiche: Oh yeah, haha, I would so want to play. But I would know when to bail. I would have enjoyed the movie.
jennism: There we have it!
Industrious high school senior Vee Delmonico is tired of living life on the sidelines. Pressured by her friends, Vee decides to join Nerve, a popular online game that challenges players to accept a series of dares. It’s not long before the adrenaline-fueled competition requires her to perform increasingly dangerous stunts. When Nerve begins to take a sinister turn, Vee finds herself in a high-stakes finale that will ultimately determine her entire future.
Directors: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
Writers: Jessica Sharzer
Stars: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco