Industrious high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts) is tired of living life on the sidelines. Pressured by friends to join the popular online game Nerve, Vee teams up with a sly and charming competitor (Dave Franco) for just one dare in what seems like harmless fun. But as Vee is caught up in the thrill of the adrenaline-fueled competition, the game takes a sinister turn with increasingly dangerous acts, leading Vee into a high-stakes finale that will determine her entire future.
Making a good movie is hard. You can have the best director, the best actors, a great screenplay, and tons of money from the studio, but that's no guarantee of success. Just look at all the mediocre to downright bad movies patrons had to sit through this past summer. So when a title that has a lower budget (approximately $20 million), far from the biggest names in Hollywood (Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are the marquee players here), and a pair of relatively unknown directors at the helm (Catfish's Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman), it's hard to believe that 'Nerve' would turn out to be a good film. But it's not just a good film...it's a great film. In fact, it's probably the best movie I've seen all year.
Roberts stars as Venus "Vee" Delmonico, a typical high school student with typical high school student problems – not knowing whether she wants to go across country to a school after she graduates and with a crush on a guy in her class she's never spoken two words to. One of her best friends is Sydney (Emily Meade), who we learn early in the movie is participating in an online game called "Nerve", which is kind of an Internet version of "Truth or Dare" – except with only the dares. "Players" play the game and win cash prizes for each dare they complete. Don't complete a dare, and you're out of the game. "Watchers" fund the game by paying a monthly fee to view the players in action over their cellphones and computers and vote on what they want to see the "Players" do next.
Frustrated that she's never been the type to go after what she wants, Vee decides to join "Nerve" as a player just to try one dare. The game tells her she needs to kiss a random stranger for five seconds. That random stranger turns out to be Ian (James Franco), who is also playing the game and may have a few secrets of his own. Vee and Ian start to play the game together, with each new dare being a little more risky (and in at least one case, risqué) and, of course, offering them bigger cash rewards upon completion. The deeper they get into the game, the more dangerous things get for both of them – to the point where the only way they might be able to survive is to win. Yes, there's callbacks here to earlier movies like David Fincher's The Game and even a touch of The Hunger Games and perhaps a half dozen other movies in similar genres, but the execution here is so well done, I didn't mind the similarities nor felt that the movie was taking advantage of them...'Nerve' is still very much its own thing.
At face value (and if you've only seen the trailer), 'Nerve' might just look like another movie aimed toward the teen and college-aged crowd, and in many ways it is. But it has a darker side as well that wants to ask questions (much like these two directors did with 'Catfish') about the technology we're in possession of and how it can lead to horrible things if we're not responsible about it. Granted, 'Nerve' is far from the first film to address such issues, but it does so in such a bold, take-no-prisoners, have as much fun as possible way, that I was enthralled with the movie throughout. Great movies are like roller-coaster rides that you don't want to slow down until the credits roll, and 'Nerve' is one of those films. The naysayers out there will point out flaws to the logic and the fact that the climax gets a bit too preachy, but I tend to worry less about such things if a movie continues to entertain, and 'Nerve' does so throughout.
I don't expect everyone to love this as much as I did...in fact, I'm already well aware I'm in the vast minority when it comes to my opinion of this movie. But I've never been one to shy away from how I feel about a film, for good or for ill, and I also realize that there's probably a great many of you who have already skipped this title for one reason or another. Give it a chance. Check it out and see if you love it as much as I do. I'm guessing 'Nerve' is destined to become a cult classic. It's the kind of movie I hope to see every time I enter a movie theater or get a new title at home to review.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Nerve' plays the game on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo release. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for either an UltraViolet or iTunes copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 'La La Land', Now You See Me 2, Allegiant, and 'Guilt'. The Blu-ray main menu is a still computerized image that asks viewers to select between "Watcher" or "Player" – however, these are just selections to go to different areas of the bonus materials; the option to play the feature (as well as set up and scene selection) are horizontally located across the bottom fourth of the screen.<.p>
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Nerve' isn't just one of the best movies I've seen this year, it's one of the best-looking titles as well, and it simply looks fantastic on Blu-ray (the cinematography is so stunning, I'm actually a little surprised this title didn't get a 4K Ultra HD release). The movie was shot digitally using Arri Alexa cameras and is presented on home video in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Cinematographer Michael Simmonds gives 'Nerve' a color palette that leans heavily on neon colors, resulting in many scenes and frames in the movie coming across as artwork in and of themselves. As you might imagine, the combination of digital camerawork and the bright colors results in the presentation looking stunning in 1080p – with the only "glitches" being banding, pixelation, and digital noise that is completely intentional and part of the source material, as many of the shots give audiences a view of the action as seen over a computer screen or cellphone.
Even if the movie was bad (and it's anything but), the imagery presented here would make 'Nerve' worth a look. The fact that the movie is so good and also looks this great is just icing on the cake. In addition to the unique cinematography, details are impressive, black levels are inky deep, and skin tones are as consistent as they can be, considering each shot of the movie takes on a different (or often several different) neon shade(s). I have no hesitation in giving this a reference-quality score.
The featured audio track here is a DTS:X one, which plays as a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track for those without a DTS:X set-up. The audio is absolutely fantastic, not only providing an immersive feel to the proceedings, but also allowing 'Nerve's soundtrack – loaded with toe-tapping tunes – to envelop the viewer/listener. There are some great moments in the presentation that really show off the sound – like when Emma Roberts and Dave Franco's characters are zooming through the streets of New York on his motorcycle, or the way the LFE bass just 'thumps' during the movie's final act when Jungle's "Lucky I Got What I Want" (the best song in the movie, in this reviewer's opinion) plays overtop the action.
Both the high end and low end of the audio's dynamic range is impressive, adding an additional aural element to an already quite-enjoyable movie. Dialogue is crisp throughout, and everything comes across as properly mixed. Lionsgate has provided viewers with one of their best-sounding Blu-rays of the year. This is reference-quality stuff.
In addition to the DTS:X track, audio is available in 5.1 Spanish DTS-HD, English 2.0 DTS-HD (Optimized for Late Night Listening), an English Descriptive Audio track, and a DTS Headphone X track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
Note: The Blu-ray's main menu has an option to select between "Watcher" and "Player", which takes one to different sections of the bonus materials. All the bonus materials under "Watcher" are also available on the DVD. All the bonus materials under "Player" are exclusive to the Blu-ray.
I'm rarely surprised by movies anymore. I expected 'Nerve' to be pleasant distraction and was blown away by how immensely entertaining it turned out to be. It's a fun ride from beginning to end, with some great surprises along the way. Add to that the reference-quality video and audio, and 'Nerve' isn't just a must-own, it's one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year.