dir Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
scr Jessica Sharzer
prd Anthony Katagas, Allison Shearmur
with Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Richard Colson Baker, Samira Wiley, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jefferies, Casey Neistat, Josh Ostrovsky, Brian 'Sene' Marc
release US 27.Jul.16, UK 11.Aug.16
16/US Lionsgate 1h36
I double dare you: Franco and Roberts

roberts franco lewis
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Nerve With a deliberately youthful style, this thriller feels bracingly original as it puts a bunch of teens in danger. Filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman keep the imagery snappy and colourful, playing with websites, phone apps and social media in a story that echoes films from Fight Club to The Hunger Games. And it works very well until it turns preachy in the final reel.

Artistic Staten Island teen Vee (Roberts) is frustrated that her single mother (Lewis) can't afford her chosen art college in Los Angeles. Resigned to studying locally, she rolls her eyes that her best pal Sydney (Meade) is playing the viral game Nerve, in which "watchers" challenge "players" to take increasingly dangerous dares. Then Vee accepts a dare, hoping to improve her safe image. Thrown in with player Ian (Franco), she embarks on a series of crazy pranks around Manhattan, gaining watchers. But there seems to be something sinister going on behind the scenes.

The visual language of this film is extreme. Joost and Schulman direct the film with whizzy flair, mixing swirling camerawork with a constant stream of social media imagery, on-screen graphics and even video-streaming dropout. Fast and colourful, it's also coherent and compelling, pulling the audience in and taking them for a ride with the characters. As a result, several scenes build up nail-biting suspense as the dares escalate into life-threatening stunts.

Meanwhile, the actors play up the emotional angles of the story. Roberts is well-cast as a shy teen who doesn't mind being in her best pal's shadow. At least until she's challenged to emerge on her own. Her connection with Franco is rather sudden, but it also feels realistically exhilarating. Franco somehow manages to reveal his triple-bluff from the start: he's not as innocent as he looks, nor as villainous as he might be. And the supporting cast provides plenty of youthful energy to sustain the story.

As things progress, the enjoyably free-form structure coalesces into a rather contrived thriller formula. Along with this are several far too obvious comments about the dangers of social media, especially mindless obedience to a gaming app. Still, calling out the anonymity of online bullying is important, even if it's done here in a way that's so on-the-nose that it's preaching to the choir. And in the end, Sharzer's lively script sacrifices its gritty realism for a corny movie finale. But by then, we're already hooked into the game.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Jul.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall