Back to School Part II #52: Nerve (dir by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)

For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)


Recently, I came across someone on twitter wondering if Emma Roberts is ever actually going to play an adult role.  Personally, I think the question is a bit unfair (just because you’re playing a teenager, that doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with “adult” issues) but I understand the logic behind it.  Emma Roberts is a Hollywood veteran who made her film debut 15 years ago.  She’s currently 25 years old but, more often that not, she’s still cast as a high school student.  (At the most, she might occasionally get to be a college student.)  Going solely by her film and television roles, Emma Roberts has been a high school student for 12 years now.

But you know what?

I say more power to Emma Roberts.  Being a teenager is a lot more fun than being an adult and she should stay in high school for as long as she can pull it off!

Anyway, this year’s Emma-Roberts-In-High-School film was a thriller called Nerve.  Actually, very little of the film takes place in high school though a running theme through the film is the desire of a senior named Vee (short for Venus and played by Roberts) to attend the California Institute of the Arts after she graduates.  Unfortunately, it costs money to go to a good school and Vee’s mother (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t have any.  As well, both Vee and her mother are still struggling to accept the recent death of Vee’s brother.

However, there may be a way for Vee to raise the money.  Vee learns that her friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), has become an online star by playing Nerve.  Nerve is a game where you can either volunteer to be a player or you can pay to be a viewer.  (There’s a third role that you can play in Nerve but it’s not a good role and we don’t learn about it until later in the film.)  The watchers dare the players to do something.  If the players do it, they win money.  If the players fail … well, there are consequences for everything.

Though initially reluctant, Vee agrees to be a player.  At first, it’s a lot of fun.  The normally cautious Vee gets to experience the exhilaration of taking a risk.  She even meets another Nerve player, Ian (Dave Franco) and soon the two of them are a team, partners and perhaps something more.  But, as the game progresses, the dares become more dangerous and the stakes get higher.  And, of course, Ian has a secret of his own..

The great thing about Nerve is that it tells a story about what’s is pretty much happening right now.  It’s easy to imagine a real-life version of Nerve going on right now.  As I watched Vee and Ian play Nerve, I was actually reminded of how much fun twitter used to be.  And then, just as happens in Nerve, more and more people got involved and things quickly went downhill.  The more popular both twitter and Nerve became, the less pleasant the experience.  The same is true for just about everything that’s ever happened online.  It always starts out as fun until the trolls arrive.  (And trolls, of course, have the magic ability to use their mere presence to transform former non-trolls into trolls as well.)  Nerve answers the age-old question of why we can’t have nice things.

Beyond that, it’s an entertaining film.  Emma Roberts and Dave Franco make for an exceptionally likable couple, the film is quickly paced, and Michael Simmonds’s cinematography gives the film an appealing and slickly flamboyant look.  Nerve didn’t really get as much attention as it deserved when it was originally released but I have a feeling that it is a film that will be rediscovered and appreciated by viewers in the future.


A Horror Quickie: Paranormal Activity 4 (dir by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost)

Paranormal Activity 4 is the first proper sequel to Paranormal Activity.  Whereas the second Paranormal Activity film showed events that were happening at the same time as the first film and the third film took place several years before the first one, Paranormal Activity 4 actually takes place several years after the conclusion of the first and second films.  It also makes an attempt to further expand the franchise’s mythology but, ultimately, this film just proves that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In Paranormal Activity 4, Kathryn Newton plays Alex, a teenager who is suspicious of both her odd neighbor Katie (played by a returning Katie Featherston) and Katie’s creepy son, Robbie (Brady Allen).  When Katie is mysteriously taken ill, Alex’s family agrees to take in Robbie while Katie recovers.  As soon as Robbie movies in, all of the usual Paranormal Activity stuff starts happenings.  Doors are mysteriously slammed,  a chandelier falls from the ceiling to the floor and nearly crushes Alex, and Robbie befriends Alex’s adopted little brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp).  Alex rightly suspects that Robbie is somehow involved with everything that’s happening but she can’t get her constantly bickering parents to listen to her.  So, she does the next best thing and she gets her geeky (but cute) boyfriend (played by the very likable Matt Shively) to set up every computer in the house with a webcam.  Soon, even more strange things are happening and the cameras are there to record all of it…

I saw Paranormal Activity 4 at a midnight screening with my best friend Evelyn and that’s probably the best way to see it, late at night when you’re less concerned about logic and surrounded by a bunch of people who are determined to make the film an interactive experience.  The worst thing you can do, while watching a Paranormal Activity film, is to start thinking about why nobody ever leaves the house or whether or not someone would actually keep filming while being chased by demonic spirits.  Instead, you just have to sit back and enjoy the silly experience for what it is.

When compared to the other films in the series, Paranormal Activity 4 is better than the first two entries but nowhere close to being as good as the third installment.  Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively are likable in the lead roles and there’s an adorable orange house cat who shows up at various points during the film.  (The cat may actually be the smartest character in the entire film because, whenever anything weird starts happening, she does the smart thing and leaves the room.)   Plus, the house in Paranormal Activity 4 is a really nice house.  Seriously, if not for the evil spirits and all that, I would love to live there.

Another year means another Paranormal Activity (or, as Evelyn put it when we saw this film, “Again with this?”).  Since these films all tend to have the same strengths and flaws and since they all tend to tell the same story, they can be difficult to review.  You can either enjoy these films for what they are or you can just throw your hands up in the air in frustration.   If you enjoyed the first three Paranormal Activities, you’ll enjoy the fourth.  If you spent the previous Paranormal Activity films wondering why everyone was so busy setting up video equipment (as opposed to just leaving the house), then Paranormal Activity 4 is not for you.