Cinema Dispatch: NERVEous Breakdown

 

NERVECD7

Nerve is owned by Lionsgate

I knew that while I was writing my review of this movie that there was no way I could fully express my utter bewilderment at what happens in the final twenty or so minutes without having a damn near incomprehensible rant right in the middle and without giving away HUGE spoilers.  Well now that the review is finished and you can find out my thoughts (essentially spoiler free) there, I think now is the time to get all this built up frustration out in a constructive and hopefully coherent manner.  Needless to say that this will contain ALL OF THE SPOILERS for the movie as so much of my problems with the logic of this (both from my understanding of technology and from the rules the movie sets for itself) is what is ultimately revealed by the end, so don’t read this before going to see the movie which I still recommend you do despite how much I HATED the ending.  Before we begin though, there’s still one very important question to answer.

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Why Do I Care So Much!?

Honestly?  I don’t really know.  I mean, one of my favorite movies of the year is The Purge Election Year, and can I honestly say that THAT movie makes any more sense than this one?  Probably not, but I think it ultimately comes down to what each movie is trying to accomplish.  The Purge: Election Year is upfront with what it wants to be and infuses every moment of screen time with that sense of purpose.  There’s no bait and switch or a drastic shifts in tone that make you questions whether or not the filmmakers want you to believe in what is going on (beyond as a scathing and blunt metaphor for the current state of US politics), so it manages to stay consistent all the way through.  This movie feels disingenuous when it eventually gets around to turning Nerve from a plot device into the main dramatic thrust of the final act as it turns out to be SUPER EVIL.  To be fair, it’s not like they aren’t dropping hints throughout the movie (and Nerve at no point doesn’t come off like the worst kind of hacktivist bro-centric garbage) but the movie doesn’t want us to focus on that until the end and when it does I don’t feel the movie earned the right to use this sloppy and barely defined entity in the way that it does.  The Purge has a backstory and mechanics.  Nerve has neither and so its constantly pulling stuff out of its ass to make it more threatening than it has any right to be in this grounded (if SLIGHTY exaggerated) world that the movie takes place in.  When shit started to hit the fan, it just didn’t feel necessary to me, and they were biting off way more than they had any hopes of chewing.  Well then, let’s get to it!  Spoilers form here on out!  Oh, and FYI, I’m not an expert (or even all that smart) in ANYTHING I’m about to discuss, so if someone out there wants to point out how stupid I am and how any of this makes sense, then go right ahead.

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What the Hell Is Nerve Anyway?

In the movie, there is a website called Nerve that anyone can apparently sign up for as either a Player or a Watcher.  Whichever one you choose, the website immediately grabs all your personal information and even your bank account numbers (without any input from the end user) to facilitate the game.  I didn’t see a Terms of Service or License Agreement checkbox before they signed up, but I doubt even THAT would allow this website to collect that much data.  If you’re a Player, you’ll be given dares by those who are watching your live stream, though I’m not sure exactly how it’s decided which dares the Player has to do (wouldn’t there be thousands of people simultaneously submitting dare ideas?) but once a dare is presented the Player, the Watchers put up money that will be deposited directly to the Player’s bank account upon completion.  The part that I don’t get about this from a business model though is that instead of Players actually getting to keep the money per dare, they have to keep doing dares until… I guess they get enough Watchers or something to go the NERVE FINALS and the winner of that gets to keep all the money they earn.  The only thing I can compare Nerve to is a camming site, but even that comparison is too generous (webcam models don’t directly compete with each other in this way) as they have lawyers write up VERY specific agreements that both the models and viewers have to agree to, and they actually pay their damn taxes.  Nerve is too cool for any of that shit and instead is OFF THE GRID YO, so any sense of Best Practices, Restrictions, or even a centralized entity that Players and Watchers can go to in order to report abuse or get support from just does not exist.

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Snitches Get Stitches!

Let’s just run through how this scenario would never EVER work in the real world or even a close approximation of it.  This is supposed to be a DARK NET thing (a place where the guns are cheap, the memes are dank, and the cocaine flows freely) yet there’s probably hundreds of thousands if not MILLIONS of teenagers, adults, and CHILDREN using this service.  Actually, I might be stretching the truth there.  There’s really nothing in here to indicate that this is Dark Net other than the sketchiness of the enterprise and the commitment to secrecy.  I doubt the aforementioned children were able to install a dual boot of Ubuntu on their phone and then download a Tor Browser (or whatever the fuck you need to do to use the Dark Net), but that’s ultimately what it comes across as in this movie considering the rest of the details that we are provided about Nerve.  For instance, the big rule you can’t break while playing Nerve is to not snitch which implies that no one outside of a select few know about it (i.e. Dark Net), yet there’s no way in hell that the entire fucking world isn’t highly aware that this going on (Dark Net or not), ESPECIALLY the police, FBI, NSA, you name it.  These are people filming themselves committing crimes at the behest of others which (according to this movie’s own logic) makes them an accessory to everything that happens, and yet no one is interested in investigating this?  These packs of roving millennials with their cameras DECIDEDLY NOT BEING QUIET ABOUT WHAT THEY’RE DOING are going completely unnoticed by the FBI and local law enforcement?  One stupid mother fucker tries to steal an officer’s gun in this movie to show the BAD side of Nerve, yet it’s never followed up on so while we KNOW that the police would have hauled his ass in and questioned him about what he was doing which would lead to them discovering Nerve, it’s never confirmed in the movie itself to preserve this whole SECRET SOCIETY bullshit.  All that right there is stupider than driving a motorcycle blindfolded which is one of the dares Dave Franco and Emma Roberts have to do; something that would ABSOLUTELY get notice by police.

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Follow the Money

Even if you were cynical enough to believe that adults are that stupid (I’m sure those kind of people would ALSO think the NSA controls everything, but whatever), you can’t ignore that Uncle Sam and the IRS would have known about this simply because of how much money is flowing through this service on a daily basis.  The movie confirms that there’s a twenty dollar a day charge for Watchers to use the service (I guess those eight year olds stole Daddy’s credit card along with his VPN) and at its peak, Emma Roberts’s viewer count was around fifty thousand, which means that in a single day SOMEONE had to have made a hundred thousand dollars from a single Player (of which there has to be hundreds if not thousands throughout the country) and that’s not including the ludicrous amounts of money passing from Watchers to Players through these bets that are being made.  Oh, but there is no Nerve, it’s just a collection of people who become individual servers of their own so there’s no centralized organization to go after.  Uh… bullshit.   AGAIN, there is a subscription fee going to someone who had to have made this service in the first place.  What drives me so crazy about that ONE particular aspect is that we only see the twenty dollar subscription fee once when Tommy is signing up to keep an eye on Vee, and we never see it again.  If they had cut that out… well the whole enterprise would still be bullshit, but it would be significantly LESS bullshit and would at least make it a bit more plausible to believe there isn’t an actually business or owner behind the service.

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It’s Totally Anonymous (*COUGH* Bullshit *COUGH*)

Now I’ve been going on and on about how this is the Dark Net and trying to apply Nerve to some sort of real world concept, but let’s try to take the movie at its face value on a couple of points.  Nerve is simultaneously easily accessible (so not the Dark Net) but is impossible to crack down on because each device is its own server which makes it a peer-to-peer service as opposed to client/server (I think).  Peer to Peer networks have little to no security because EVERYTHIGN IS SHARED WITH EVERYONE, so whether or not there is a central server to go after; the people using it, the bank accounts being used, and the messages being written are easily accessible either through archives (if they are kept) or by simple observation and recording.  An undercover cop can create an account and record everything they see going on (I’m pretty sure Wireshark or something like it would be handy here) which means everyone using the service doesn’t have a lot of ways to hide their activities.  Some of these chuckle heads may be under AnonAbro69, but I get the feeling that most of the hundreds of thousands of users aren’t gonna know how to cover their tracks from someone looking to find them out (and the movie CLEARLY demonstrates that it’s not that freaking hard to strip these users of their anonymity which is the way that Tommy and the Hacker Club manages to get everyone to stop using Nerve at the end of the movie).  This shit has been going on for AT LEAST a year, yet has nothing in the movie itself to explain who it never got shut down or investigated in all that time.

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Wait, THIS Is What We’re Doing!?

All that is REALLY bad, but here’s where we reach the dénouement of awfulness as the movie reaches its finale.  It’s bad enough that we’re supposed to believe that this service exists and is widely available to everyone except law enforcement with endless amounts of money going back and forth that’s somehow very well coordinated yet has no real leader behind it, but when we find out that this shit turns into an actual blood sport?  THAT’S a point where I don’t just think it’s stupid but that it get REAL close to being straight up propagandist.  Against what I’m not sure, other than the idea of young people using technology.  The movie takes a turn once Emma Roberts decides she’s had enough and tries to tell a police officer.  The moment she does, Nerve sends out some dude to punch her in the face and kidnap her (not a hundred yards from the cop) and drag her ass to a shipping yard so that a shitty nineties Macintosh can then tell her that she’s now a prisoner of Nerve which means that UNLESS she wins the game, she’ll be doxed and her identity will be stolen which will completely ruin her life (this is what happened to Dave Franco’s character and why he’s so desperate to keep the game going throughout the movie).  Now I’m just going to give up on making sense out of this being some sort of unorganized mob rule and that there’s no real leadership to Nerve because going down that road would make my brain hurt too much, but let’s go with the idea that whether or not there ACTUALLY is a puppet master behind the organization, Nerve has the capacity to work in its own self-interest and make deceive moments on the fly (something IMPOSSIBLE in whatever democratic like system that Nerve supposedly operates on).  This shit is apparently widely known through the Nerve community and yet no one has informed the cops yet.  Not only that, but when they have two prisoners in one place (Roberts and Franco), they figure the best dare is to have them try to shoot each other.  The one who DOESN’T get shot wins the tournament.  Wow.  WOOOOOOW.  Oh, and it gets better.  Where exactly are they holding this blood sport!?  Well I’m not EXACTLY sure (I think it might be Liberty Island) but it looks like one of those outdoor theaters in a park or something and there are just so many people there all cheering them on to shoot each other in the face because… I guess that’s what happens when you let kids be kids.  Okay, in the movie’s defense, this is here to set up the moral of the story which is that you can’t hide behind your anonymity (whether its online or off) but since that was never a part of the movie until now and the fact that the movie hasn’t put in the groundwork for this message the same way something like The Purge: Election Year did, I’m loathe to let this pass as more symbolic than literal in a movie that has never asked us to consider this movie as anything more than a straightforward story.  What we’re seeing is hundreds of people standing in a circle (and thousands more watching on their devices) cheering two people to kill each other in some sick twisted game.  I’m not about to let it cop out by claiming to be some avant-garde examination of the human condition like it’s Swiss Army Man or something as this feels like sloppy film making that’s inadvertently getting close to propaganda.  If they wanted to have a serious message here, they needed to care about conveying it well because what we’re seeing here is an unpleasant and muddled mess.  Needless to say that we can add all these serious crimes to the list of OTHER crimes that Nerve is either directly responsible for facilitating the commission of; something that law enforcement would absolutely have a problem with on top of the noise complains of there being a public execution right in the middle of their fucking city.

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So Once Again, Why Do I Care So Much!?

This movie was really interesting and well executed up until the point where it ends up going completely off the rails, and it hit me REALLY hard how much they fucked it up.  It didn’t have to be that way if they either left Nerve as a piece of the puzzle instead of the ultimate symbol of evil, or at the very least if they cared enough ABOUT making it the bad guy that they would have hammered out all those clear flaws that I took the time to painstakingly point out.  I still think it’s a film worth watching, but it’s also worth exploring how this movie failed and how easily it could have been avoided.  Seriously, in ten years this is gonna be recognized as this decade’s Fear Dot Com.

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Thank you all for reading this break down of why this movie disappointed me and if you haven’t already, you can check out my review of it HERE!  On top of that, if you liked this piece and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Nerve [Blu-ray 3D]

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