Nerve Review

Third week running, with the last of the summer blockbusters coming out as the lucrative summer market comes to a close. And surprisingly, we have another film that looked terrible but managed to follow last week’s The Shallows and turned into a little gem.

Nerve stars Emma Roberts, James Franco, Emily Meade and Miles Heizer and is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Based on the book of the same name by Jeanne Ryan, the film follows teenager Vee (Roberts) who joins the online game Nerve, where she can win money for completing dares.

I must confess, I was actually wanting to see Nerve from the trailer. While I didn’t have high hopes, the set-up looked interesting. As explained in the intro, Nerve is an online game. You are either a “watcher” or a “player”. Watchers, as the name implies watch and set dares for the Players. When Players video themselves completing dares they attract followers which in turn wins them money, simple. It’s Pokémon GO, mixed with Vine and Online Poker. Do you leave with the money you’ve made or do you hold your nerve (aha, I see what you did there) and do “one last dare” to get some more money. It’s an interesting concept for a thriller, one that Nerve tries to explore but never really fleshes out.

The film is full of almost great moments. The dares have that same sort of debauchery of High-Rise and The Wolf of Wall Street had as well as having the colour scheme of The Neon Demon (seriously, it’s like the film is being blackmailed by the neon light industry). You can almost hear Nerve straining at its 12a rating, wanting to push the envelope and put some more crazy and risqué stuff on-screen but needing that young teenage market with disposable income who are annoyed they couldn’t get into Suicide Squad.

These great moments though are let down by a weak story and script that has more holes than a sieve. How come our main characters Vee and Ian (Emma Roberts and James Franco, who are both terrific) have to do three dares one after the other for fear of losing it all, but can go for pizza and a carousel ride without losing all their winnings? Who sets the dares? Who pays the players? Questions that the film really doesn’t care about so it can do the same old “kooky/nerdy girl comes out of her shell and get’s a boyfriend and shows all the cool kids at school that they were wrong about her” storyline that was tired back in the 1980s.

The film tries to include the cool “hacker” vibe that has been in media recently (see Mr. Robot and Watch_Dogs), but oddly shows the hackers as pouty Abercrombie and Fitch models with hearts of gold rather than the socially-maladjusted kids who help North Korea push around movie studios. Nerve brings up many ideas about online accounts and privacy as well as cyberbullying and crime, but none of it is sub-text like the aforementioned Rise or Demon, it’s just text. The final act, where Vee makes a speech to her millions of watchers is as about on-the-nose as you could get without it becoming an infomercial that is played in schools to warn kids about the dangers of the internet.

Nerve is both dumb but also kind of great. It never really drops into a lull, with the two hour run time neither feeling overlong or too short. The story is weak, but the set-up is one of the most interesting of the faux-sincere 12a summer crowd. If may be based off a young adult book, but at least it’s not set in the post-apocalypse like every other teenage-based film of the past five years. It gets a recommendation from me.

Score: 7/10 Young, dumb but thoroughly entertaining.

Blackhat Review


Blackhat is another 2015 film that I just missed before starting The Student Film Review. It had come out on DVD all the way back in June, but I only managed to pick up a DVD copy last week. And now I get to review it.


Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang and Viola Davis and is directed by Michael Mann. Blackhat follows convicted hacker Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth) as he released from prison to help a joint US-Chinese taskforce track down a dangerous hacker who is wreaking havoc through computers.

Michal Mann’s resume as a director is spectacular. His filmography includes things like Public Enemies, Heat, Collateral and Last Of The Mohicans. I went back and watched Last Of The Mohicans a few days ago just to see how it stacked up against Blackhat, and it’s still as amazing and brutal as when I first watched it. The man knows how to direct a good film. Blackhat, while not his best is still a very competent and good-looking film.

The main problem people have with Blackhat is that Chris Hemsworth is meant to be a computer hacker. Yeah, Chris Hemsworth, the guy who plays Thor is a computer hacker. I really don’t have a problem with the casting, early on in the film we see Hemsworth doing push-ups against a wall and a few lines of dialogue near the middle of the film indicate that his extended stay in prison away from computers meant he spent most of his time working out. However implausible that a 24-hour code junkie looks like a body-builder, I’ll buy it for the sake of the story.

The rest of the actors are rather more believable (and likeable), with Leehom Wang as Captain Chen Dawai who has history with Hathaway and Viola Davis as FBI Agent Carol Barrett who delivers nearly every line in a deadpan tone, sometimes accidently falling into the stereotypical “sassy black woman” role. The only bad casting in my opinion is Wei Tang, who like Chris Hemsworth doesn’t look like a stereotypical hacker and is mostly wooden throughout the film.

Michael Mann as a director is mainly known for two things, beautiful cinematography of cities (mainly at night) and then subsequent gunfights taking place in said city. Both of these factors work perfectly in Blackhat. The story jumps all over the world, starting in Hong Kong, but quickly moving to Los Angeles, back to Hong Kong, then to Kuala Lumpur and then finally to Jakarta. Mann soaks in these beautiful landscapes in the same way Hitman: Agent 47 did with Singapore, using beautiful helicopter shots to show the modern architecture or the wide-open expanses off. The gunfights in these locations are also put together well, with a spectacular shootout in the middle of the film set in a Hong Kong shipping port. The gunshots echo around the metal containers and from far off, giving the film a great sense of realism.

The main problems I had with the film is the length and the villains. The film is over two hours long (shorter than most of Mann’s films) but due to slow pacing at the beginning the first half feels a lot longer than it is. The pace does thankfully pick up during the second half of the film, meaning the film hurtles towards it conclusion, but since the pace has picked up the film accidently flies straight past it’s ending, with no memorable end scene. I actually had to think really hard to try and remember how Blackhat ended; I eventually gave up before it finally came to me. The film doesn’t know how to keep a steady pace; instead it just flips from one end of the scale to the other. The villains are bland and boring, just coming down to dudes who actually look like hackers but are also experts with machine guns. The main bad guy doesn’t have a big, memorable reveal so the film feels a little unfocused since we don’t know or care who this guy is.

In conclusion, Blackhat has some problems with its cast and story, but the amazing cinematography, coupled with the exotic locales and brilliant gun battles and knife fights make it an interesting action film.

Score: 7/10 A straight forward action-chase film with a modern day digital update.