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.

Friend Request Review

I wasn’t looking forward to Friend Request. I remember seeing the trailer and shaking my head in disbelief at how poor the film looked. But after doing an entire module on horror films this university year, I thought I may as well go along and see how it delivered.

Fried Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers and Connor Paolo and is directed by Simon Verhoeven. The film follows Laura (Debnam-Carey) who after an altercation with an odd girl, Marina (Ahlers) at school is harassed online by a supernatural presence.

When I first saw the trailer, all I could think was Friend Request was going to be a cheap rip off of last year’s cyber-themed horror film Unfriended. Unfriended‘s gimmick was that it all took place on a computer screen and I thought this looked like it was just going to take the themes that Unfriended had done and redo all of them. And for a while, I was right. The film takes the idea of online/social media addiction as being the cause for why the characters don’t just switch off their laptops and phones, it creates a downward spiral. But slowly, Friend Request tips it’s hand and reveals a much more thought-out and interesting back story, it’s just hidden behind stupid jump scares and loud noises.

The film works when it’s giving us glimpses of how and why the hauntings are happening. While eventually it does turn into an exposition dump, in the beginning Friend Request manages to only give glimpses at an explanations, making the audience piece the puzzle together by themselves. We have links back to old ritualistic cults, orphanages, mutilated children, your staple horror clichés, but it somehow works. It’s a mash up of Ringu meets M.R. James and manages to be a horror film with gothic sensibilities. It falls down when it panders to the mainstream horror crowd by throwing a face up accompanied by loud musical sting like the score writer has just fallen on every note on his keyboard. It didn’t need these moments, the films was spooky enough as it was, it’s just cheapened it by having easily telegraphed moments of “be scared because NOISES!”

Following on from the gothic themes in Friend Request, the film does boast some rather well done animation sections. Marina, the girl with a mysterious past who sets the plot in motion is an artist and puts her creations online. At certain points the film enters these animations and they actually add to the sense of uneasiness. They are stylistically similar to The Judderman or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Is was an interesting deviation whenever the film would enter animation but unfortunately it doesn’t stick around for the second half, being dropped after the first half hour.

There are some other faults with Friend Request. All the actors, who despite playing sophomores all look over thirty, it’s quite funny. There is also a side-plot about a couple of police detectives who are investigating the odd disturbances. It could have been an interesting theme, similar to Arbitrage, to see two detectives trying to pin down what it actually that is that is stalking the students, epically once the stalking moves from the supernatural into something a lot more concrete and human. But once more, it get’s dropped before it is fully explored, with both characters leaving at the moments where they could have added something more to the story.

And just a small thing to finish, the ending is actually really imaginative as well as being a sequel bait to a franchise. However as soon as you start thinking about it, it doesn’t hold up to much logic, even in a supernatural horror film.

To wrap up, Friend Request wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When it’s going good, it’s actually quite interesting and effective, but it’s push to go for the wider audience mean that that goodness is usually squandered by silly jump scares. It’s not as good as Unfriended and it isn’t as clever as Cyberbully (two films that do the cyber-horror genre well), but if you’re looking for a spooky film to watch in the cinema, then this will do.

Score: 6/10 It’s been done better, but for now it’s sufficient.