★★ / ★★★★
A better version of “Nerve,” based on a novel by Jeanne Ryan and written for the screen by Jessica Sharzer, has been released two years prior. It is called “13 Sins” or “13: Game of Death,” a remake of a Thai horror-comedy “13 Beloved.” Compared to the 2014 picture, this film pales by comparison. Although its production design is more colorful and inviting, the suspense and thrills are light, neither ridiculous enough on a consistent basis that we laugh at the outrageousness of it all nor is it darkly comic enough that we that we can’t help but stare at the images for the violence, gore, and exploitation. The film is likely to appeal to those used to the quality of MTV movies, superficially curious but fails to deliver fully on a dramatic and compelling level.
The setup is standard and painfully formulaic. The nice high school girl with aspirations of moving away for art school after senior year is played by Emma Roberts. Vee, short for Venus, is seen by her friends (Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn) as someone who always plays it safe—not boring… but one who is not that exciting either. To prove her friends wrong, she decides to play an online game called “Nerve” in which a participant is given a choice to become a “watcher” or a “player.” Vee chooses the latter and with each successful dare, increasingly dangerous over time and each task requiring be self-recorded via phone, money is deposited directly to her bank account.
One of the problems is a lack of range in terms of the dares. After an amusing scene that takes place in a high-end boutique, notice that the assignments are almost always physically dangerous. As a result, the viewers are limited to a one-dimensional experience where we simply wait how Vee might end up at a hospital. It might have been more interesting if some of the dares were rooted in mental struggles once in a while. For instance, why not get Vee to do or put her hands—or her whole body— on or in something so disgusting that it would disturb anybody watching it? This is why “13 Sins” shines over this would-be thriller; “Nerve” is not willing to experiment enough.
While the scenes are executed with enough verve and edited proficiently, these only go so far because the screenplay neglects to paint the characters as real people with real lives and therefore would suffer real consequences depending on their actions—or inaction. For instance, although acceptable that Vee chooses to play a game in order to prove to her friends that she can be exciting, perhaps she needed to prove something to herself as well. But the writers do not touch upon this. Either they are too afraid or they do not know how to inject substance into their work and make the package convincing—a shame because Roberts is quite watchable as a young woman who does not realize until it’s too late that the game is more than just a game—it is a gamble for her life.
A supporting character, played by Dave Franco, is given some backstory but the more one thinks about it, the less his motivation makes sense on a practical level. Furthermore, there is an undercooked, sort-of romantic connection between them—most unconvincing and not at all interesting. I wished one of Vee’s friends, Tommy, who has a crush on our heroine is given more screen time given his know-how in terms of how to defeat the game.
He’s interesting because he actually exudes technical intelligence and a warm kindness, too. I found it amusing that somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion Tommy might be a good fit for Vee because the two of them share a certain aura of conventionality. I grew exasperated during the film’s forced final act and caught myself considering that maybe there is a light romantic comedy to be made between Vee and Tommy’s friendship.