A modern moral fable for the digital age?

Nerve has lots of things going for it. An excellent concept, a solid-to-good cast and directors who are dab hands at manipulating audiences. Ariel Schulman (brother of Nev) and Henry Joost directed Catfish (2010) which is one of the best documentary films from the 21st century. The fact that six years on it is still unknown if it actually is a documentary only emphasizes just how good a film it is. It’s approach going one way then tacking a totally unexpected diversion is only one of the similarities it shares with their latest venture. There’s also the utilisation of social media – just how much trust the little rectangular shaped device we never leave home without?

Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior currently in the process of trying to tell her mother (Juliette Lewis) that she wants to leave home in Staten Island and go to an arts school on the other side of the country. It’s not the first time she’s shied away from life, she shies away from most things. However when Sydney (Emily Meade), her best friend,  teasing goes too far Vee decides to prove she’s a Player not a Watcher by signing up to Nerve. Nerve is an online truth or dare game, only without the truth. All though her other best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) is against her participating the first dare goes well and even leads her to teaming up with Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow Player. But as the dares escalate in terms of risk and the manipulation becomes all-consuming it looks like Vee is trapped in the game.

To begin, I just want to start with a bit of a moan about this film. It’s my main issue with it actually – just how ‘old’ these ‘teenagers’ actually are.  Let’s go through the stats: Emma Roberts (25 years old),  Dave Franco (31 years old), Emily Meade (27 years old), Kimiko Glenn (27 years old), Marc John Jefferies (26 years old), and Machine Gun Kelly (26 years old, and yes, apparently that is his name…) It’s hilarious that the average age of the cast is almost a decade older than the characters they are playing. I know Nerve is not alone with this,  I remember finding it hilarious when I found out the cast’s ages of Glee, but I found it far more grating here. For a film that becomes increasingly clunky/ preachy with its moralistic message it almost becomes insulting to have a cast who really don’t look 17/18 feigning at being teens. HOWEVER, the cast are reasonably charismatic enough to get away with this and certainly allow the film to chug away in an entertaining enough manner.

Like many films of this genre it’s  based on a high concept and mostly original idea yet doesn’t quite manage to become more than the sum of its parts. It’s the kind of film that when you really think about it falls apart completely and once you finish watching you won’t really remember. AND if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve pretty much seen the entire movie. It doesn’t say anything new about the dangers of the web, is full of cliched outlines rather than characters but does what it sets out to do reasonably well. It’s one of the first film’s to accurately reflect the sea of mobile phone screens that feature within every crowd of people. Plus there’s a Roy Orbison track 

Think A Cinderella Story (2004) meets Hunger Games (2012). A tale for teens that will just about entertain adults for the length of it’s 90 minute running time.


‘Nerve’ is in cinemas now.

The Shallows

Just when you thought it was finally safe to go back in the water…

Jaws (1975) revolutionised cinema in three ways. 1) It established the career of a certain well-known director by the name of Steven Spielberg. 2) It was one of the first, if not the first, Blockbuster movie. 3) It made sharks seem really really scary, continuing to turn generation after generation into galeophobics (those with an intense fear of water due to sharks). 41 years later (yep, just take a minute to ponder that!) The Shallows comes along, using a great white shark to once more terrify audiences. Does it work? For the most part yes it really does!

Shortly after the death of her mother medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) decides to take a break from college and go travelling. She’s decided to retrace her mother’s steps and has travelled to a secret beach in Mexico to surf. Her favourite photo of her mother is her being stood on the beach, surfboard in hand, just after finding out she was pregnant with Nancy. Kind local Carlos (Óscar Jaenada) drives Nancy to the beach and drops her off. Nancy proceeds to surf for hours, first alongside two local residents and then on her own. After sensing a commotion in the water she travels a little further out when a great white shark attacks. A badly wounded Nancy drags herself to a pile of rocks roughly 200m from the shore, but the beast is circling and stopping her from reaching the shore. What will follow is a test of wills between man and nature – will Nancy survive?

In the 41 years since Jaws (again, can you believe it?!?) about 83 movies (yep, I counted) featuring killer sharks have graced big, small and non existent screens. For every Jaws there’s been at least ten Jaws:The Revenge. Thankfully The Shallows  is more like the former than the latter.

There’s a few reasons The Shallows has the makings of something of a modern masterpiece. There’s the fact it’s a bottle thriller – a movie set solely in one small location, think Buried (2010), Moon (2009) and 127 Hours (2010)- is an excellent decision. Bottle movies play us right in the situation the characters are in , we the audience cannot escape just as the character we are watching cannot. Having Nancy trapped on a small pile of rocks, that are soon to disappear with the tide, really ratchets up the tension. It allows us to connect with the tension she is feeling and develop our own sympathy tension. Even though we have only just meet her we know quite a chunk about her and we are desperate for her to pull through, no matter how unlikely that regularly seems.

This, however, would not be as effective were it not for Lively’s performance. It is not hyperbolic or oversimplified to say she carries this film. For the majority of the film, aside from a temporary companion seagull she names Steven, she is alone on screen. At least 60 minutes pass where she has no-one to communicate with and no-one to help her. Lively excels in communicating every emotion – from the pain of her energy, the horrendous worry over her situation to her savvy quick mindedness as she handles each situation. Should it have really been warranted Lively truly proves her skill as a fine actress.

Her excellent performance is immensely well served by the cinematography. The sequences of the shark attacking are as chilling as you’d hope/expect/want. The scenes where the shark cannot be seen, when we know it is lurking, are equally-wracking. An excellent balance is used between showing the beauty of this secluded and breath-taking beach along with the horror that lurks beneath the surface. There’s also an effective integration of social media/mobile phones early on which whilst highlighting this is a modern movie also had to the believability of the situation and of Nancy as a character.

The only negative has to be the final 5 minutes/ ending which really test the realms of believability.

All in all The Shallows has plenty of thrills and chills, with scares that will compel  most of the audience. And, at less than 90 minutes long, it’s a taut and lean thriller. Well worth a watch.


‘The Shallows‘ is in cinemas now. 

Money Monster

A solid and enjoyable suspense-thriller

There is a tiny, nasty part of me that wants to use the Valley Girl-esque phrase of ‘Hello, Money Monster? 2002 called and it wants its movie back!” as there is something rather dated about this film. However, after seeing Neon Demon at a preview screening last night (click here for my review) there was actually something rather comforting about seeing a good old-fashioned topical thriller that clocks in at the good ol’ standard 90 minutes. And it’s actually pretty good.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of cable network show ‘Money Monster’ , providing gives the nation stock market tips and tricks. To him the programme is the chance to talk about his favourite thing, money, and have fun – this includes props, sound effects, visual aids and dancers. He seems blissfully unaware of just how important his guidance is to some people, that he is dealing with the livelihoods of millions of people – at least he was unaware until Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) entered the studio during a live broadcast, brandishing a gun and forcing Lee to wear a vest laden with explosives. It’s up to the show’s executive producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to help Lee get out alive, and that means locating business CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) . His company lost $880 million due to a ‘Glitch’, $60,000 of which was Kyle’s. But is there more truth to this ‘Glitch’ than Walt is letting on? 

Money Monster is a bit of a superlative-free zone. It’s not the world’s greatest film relating to the economy, nor is it the worst. Director Jodie Foster does a great job in articulating what is universal anger borne out of confusion over the nature of banking and financial crashes. Whilst the film is not developed enough to serve as a deep socio-economic or political statement is does allow for reflection on how little we know about what men in suits are doing with our money. Unlike the equally enjoyable The Big Short  (click here for my review) it doesn’t focus on an entire recession, but on how the crash of just one company can have devastating consequences.

O’Connell is superb channeling power and rage into his performance, one which has thematic similarities to Daniel Kaluuya in an episode of Black Mirror entitled ‘Fifteen Million Merits‘.  Clooney offers a solid performance as an arrogant arsehole with a heart of gold (pretty much his standard M.O). Roberts is fine as a desperate producer keeping her head when all around her are losing there’s. West is the required level of swarmy to create a villainous figure. Caitriona Balfe (playing Diane Lester) is an actress I had not come across before but was a pleasant surprise with a crucial yet understated performance.

Money Monster provides just what the trailer offers. No need to read the small print here: it’s solid entertainment that will engage for the entirety of its running time and may even make you think.