1 07 2017

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s “Nerve” instantly makes us aware that, for today’s high schoolers, life is not lived alongside a screen so much as it is lived inside one. Devices are not an embellishment to reality but rather a replacement for it altogether.

The story, adapted from Jeanne Ryan’s YA novel, fashions a new kind of social media frenzy for young people called – well – Nerve. In this game, participants can enter either as watchers observing the dares or as players performing them. Cash incentives encourage increasingly bananas stunts, which both groups are forbidden to report to law enforcement.

The player/watcher divide becomes an all too convenient dichotomy for passive/active, but the Nerve game is a bit more complicated than high school cliques. It’s more like bystanders and perpetrators as shown by the misadventures of Emma Roberts’ Vee, who uses the game as an escape for a debilitating family life after the death of her brother. She’s a person of good intentions egged on by a crowd of people whose motivations are not as pure.

Not unlike Joost and Schulman’s cultural landmark debut “Catfish,” the film starts off with promising, incisive commentary about what social media does to people … only to devolve into bizarre theatrics that veer wildly off-message. “Nerve” makes excellent points about how easy it is to manipulate us with personal information that we willingly provide, and that deserves more of a horror/thriller ending than just another banal action set piece. B- /

REVIEW: Catfish

11 01 2011

In honor of the DVD release of “The Social Network,” I figure this would be as good a time as ever to review two documentaries with incredibly powerful insights into the digital age and social media.  The second movie of this two-day spotlight is Ariel Schulman’s “Catfish.”

The filmmakers behind “Catfish” did what no sane person in 2011 would do: pursue people in real life that they had only made digital contact with.  Yet after Nev Schulman develops what he believes is a legitimate relationship with the family of 8-year-old painting prodigy Abby, that’s exactly what they do.  With camera crews documenting each step of the bizarre journey, the lines between reality and sensationalism are once again blurred like many 2010 films.

Obviously, the creepy factor is through the roof as they get a reminder that you can be anyone you want on the Internet, especially not yourself.  Without giving too much away, the movie makes you want to go double-check your list of Facebook friends and think twice about how you interact online.  It shows a flip-side to the coin that tells us that social media helps us communicate more easily with the people we know; it’s easier for people we don’t know to communicate with us.  And these people are desperate and without boundaries, willing to go to extremes to get what they want.

If “Catfish” were fictional, the second half would have played out much differently, probably with a whole lot more taut suspense and cheap thrills.  I don’t suspect it will be long before fake Facebook creeper movies infiltrate the theater, and those will make us fear.  As a documentary, “Catfish” makes us think, and its social commentary is unique and valuable.  Perhaps this darker side of the Internet has its uses, and perhaps people who don’t want to be themselves online have the right to do so.  It raises some unconventional questions about net privacy and identity, although with a little bit too much compassion for the culprits to truly challenge the audience to make up their own minds.  B+