If you use the Internet, you may have heard of Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman’s “Nerve,” or the new Snapchat filter asking if you’re a Watcher or a Player -- a question that has become increasingly relevant in the digital age. Are we not all Watchers? And to some extent are we not all Players as well, simply by presenting our words, our faces, and our images, on massive public platforms? While I cannot speak to the novel, the film “Nerve” seeks to address this culture of digital self-expression while appealing to teens as most films starring actors in their mid-20’s playing high school seniors seek to do.
I’m going to be honest, I liked “Nerve” a lot; I found it exciting, aesthetically beautiful, and clever in its integration of so called New Media. Yes, the video call between Vee, the protagonist, and Syd, her best friend, was straight out of 2014’s “Unfriended” (creepy pixelated effects and all). However, presenting shots in portrait mode similar to a Snapchat video, or displaying comments popping up as Vee undresses (such as on live streams) -- some flattering, some cruel, and most creepy -- show an awareness of how these modern forms of communication function. These choices may be gimmicky, but they reflect the closing gap between the silver screen and new platforms like YouTube or even Snapchat.
Sure, “Nerve” falls through in the long run, attempting to merge “The Hunger Games” and a clumsy anti-troll message reminding people of the risks of anonymity, but it’s a step in the right direction. In an age when traditional TV audiences are migrating to Netflix, 18-to-24-year-olds watching almost 40 percent less than they were five years ago, and web series like “Carmilla” garnering millions of views, our entertainment scene is changing once again. With so much available content, creators are pushed to new heights, and consumers can find a plethora of options when in search of entertainment. You’re looking for a comedy based on a 24-year-old ex-crocodile trainer missing one leg and trying to find love in New York City? I’m sure it exists somewhere, or will soon. Even in 2013, before Vine had taken off, Chris Hardwick surmised this shift in his speech at the Streamy Awards, stating that “content is king." Content creation is becoming democratized, allowing anyone with internet access a shot at success.
You may be wondering where “Nerve” fits into this evolution of culture. While more of a symptom of this change than a step in the right direction, this film attempts to warn its teenage audience about the risks of being either “Internet Famous,” or one of the many nameless consumers of this content. It also seduces them with stylistic choices screaming: “We get it, we understand your culture.” Being a Player is dangerous, the movie seems to say, but so is being a Watcher; a message lost on viewers simply looking for an exciting summer film. While other projects such as the acclaimed British drama “Black Mirror” explore the dangerous intersections of humanity and advancing technology, “Nerve” simply shows that the film industry is starting to acknowledge New Media and draw on it as a resource.
Perhaps someday soon we’ll live in a culture with complete integration and cross-platform content; enabling stories to be told to their fullest intent. Already the rebooted television show “Heroes Reborn” was launched with an app featuring clips from previous seasons and an original web series. YouTubers are given television shows, Viners star in their own movies; we live in a brave new world of content crossover, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.