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It’s a given that movies set in the “current day” can become techno-obsolete fairly quickly after release…AOL dial-up or The Ring VHS tapes, anyone? Watching Nerve, however, made me wonder if we’ve reached the point where reality is actually more than a few steps ahead of the action on the screen. As the Periscope-style hearts bubbled around our characters during their NYC meet-cute-dares, I just knew these events have already happened…and not only once or twice since filming wrapped over a year ago.

Our protagonist, good-girl Vee (Emma Roberts, Scream Queens (2016), American Horror Story (2015)), takes on the role of a Player in a virtual game of truth or dare called Nerve in an attempt to shed her goody-goody image and prove that she can keep up with her wild best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade, Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? (2016)). The fact that cash is the reward for a successful dare doesn’t hurt either, and soon enough she’s progressed from silly dares like kissing a stranger to defying death by going on a high-speed blindfolded motorcycle ride with fellow Player Ian (Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street (2012)). The challenges escalate and the payouts increase until Vee finds out that Nerve is more like Russian roulette than truth or dare.

Nerve is solidly PG-13…despite the Watchers’ real-time commentary and ability to dare the players to do anything, you can’t help but note that streaking was about as sexual as a dare got when real-life middle-schoolers are Snapchatting nude selfies. It’s not obnoxious, though, and it’s easy to follow one dare to the next without dreading a seedier twist. There’s no truly evil monster or live-streamed slaughter like 2008’s Untraceable. I’m not sure if that was the filmmakers’ intent, but I was never twisted up in terror worrying about sweet Vee’s fate in the (somehow-completely-invisible-to-everyone-in-NYC-Hunger-Games-style) final arena. Instead I was thoroughly creeped out by considering how completely realistic just about everything I was watching could be right at that moment.

I’ll confess that I went in reminding myself not to judge Emma Roberts just for…well, being Emma Roberts, but I was pleasantly surprised that she managed to shed the bratty persona she’s so ably acquired and engaged me with a teenager that is neither too self-sacrificing nor too rebellious. I could actually see her being just vulnerable and yet quietly frustrated enough to be drawn into this game of one-upmanship, attention and even positive reinforcement…Vee becomes a bona-fide Nerve celebrity with thousands of fans and followers (and money!) within a matter of hours.

Granted, most of the techie details are quickly glossed over or ignored outright, there are a couple of go-nowhere plot points and the climax came dangerously close to ruining everything before it. Yes, the friendly neighborhood hacker den along with Vee’s gullible mother made for a few eye-rolls, but the real appeal of Nerve is not in showing us what our kids could be up to, it’s what they already are up to. Whether they’re Players or Watchers, when combined with a superbly spot-on soundtrack, this is a film that knows exactly what they’re willing to do and has fun showing us too.

Nerve is streaming now on the following services:
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