The invigorating new thriller "Nerve ," now playing in theaters, goes deep into the psychology of the internet with an addictive game that's so fresh, you wonder whether the filmmakers had a tip that the Pokemon Go craze was on the horizon.
In the film, based on the 2012 Jeanne Ryan novel, Nerve is an app-based game that's all the rage among the kids. You can choose to be a "player" or a "watcher." Players are given dares by anonymous masses of watchers with the promise of cash prizes at the end of each dare, which they have to film themselves doing — not dissimilar to Facebook Live or Periscope.
The dares can be as innocuous as kissing a stranger for five seconds, which is how Emma Roberts' square high school student Vee gets hooked up with Dave Franco's slightly older, slightly untrustworthy Ian. Or the dares can be as dangerous as dead-hanging off a high-rise.
"Nerve" is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the men who brought the world "Catfish," that is-it-real, is-it-fake cultural phenomenon/documentary from 2010 about lying on the internet that birthed the popular television show. They were excited to jump back into the current state of the internet. A lot has changed in six years, and "Nerve" almost makes "Catfish" look quaint.
"There have been a lot of movies that are fantasy or dystopian that take place in this world that you have to imagine. And we look around and we're kind of already living in a sci-fi movie with the technology that exists today and a lot of really simple things we take for granted," Joost said. "We've gone so far beyond '1984' that it feels like we had to tell a story about that."
They collaborated with everyone from teens to a former hacker for the CIA to develop technology that would look and feel believable "five minutes in the future," and also something that wouldn't look as though it required startup money.
The scariest part of "Nerve" is that the game is user generated and promulgated. There is no center to attack once things start getting out of hand. This was a change from the novel, which has a shadowy evil genius controlling everything.
"We realized what was actually more insidious and scarier and much harder to control and confront is if we're the bad guys," screenwriter Jessica Sharzer said. "It's more truthful to the way the internet works."
Beyond the drug-like thrills of the escalating dares, the film feels part "Risky Business" and part "After Hours," as Vee and Ian team up to try to win the game — which is also incidentally a popularity contest. Those with the most watchers get to advance. But the stakes keep going up as more and more dares are completed.
"Just wait. Neither of us think it's necessarily a good idea for the game to exist, but it might be inevitable," Schulman said.