Tag Archives: film review

20th Century Women (2017): punk, feminism and pre-Reagan politics in 1979 California

Santa Barbara, 1979. The year of Iranian revolution, energy crisis, the beginning of never-ending antagonisms between the West and the Middle East, and the beginning of an end of Detroit and America’s auto industry.

A car that dramatically bursts into flames in the opening scene symbolically represents an end of the industrial force that was once the USA, and on remains of which will all to soon be emerging new and irreversibly destructive, neoliberal politics of Ronald Reagan. However, as this is not a film about American politics, the symbolism of the burning car hides two separate meanings: a car, universal symbol of masculine society and patriarchy, that is slowly disappearing in burning flames, is also indicating an absence of a fatherly figure in our 15-years old protagonist’s life. “This was my husband’s Ford Galaxy,” explains Dorothea, Jamie’s enigmatic mother in a voice-over narration that is constantly reappearing throughout the film, helping us understand the unusual relationship between this chain-smoking single mother who is uncompromisingly bending all existing social “rules” of gender, sexual identity and nuclear family, and her rebellious teenage son who is just beginning to learn about life, love and late 70’s punk scene.

Dorothea (phenomenal Annette Bening), an elderly mother who grew up with music of Cole Porter and films of Humphrey Bogart during the Great Depression, finds herself disconnected from her adolescent son, whose life, problems, music preferences and a subculture he identifies himself with, are too far away from what her generation could ever fully comprehend. This leads her to a conclusion that the generational gap between the two of them is far too big for her alone to be able to raise him. She turns for help to her tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig, charming as always) and to Jamie’s platonic love Julie (Elle Fanning), both of whom spend most of the days hanging out in Dorothea’s Victorian villa. Abbie, who is drawing most of her artistic inspiration from the intangible persona of David Bowie, is an aspiring photographer and a feminist, is introducing Jamie to the vibrant life of underground punk scene, seduction of women, and female sexuality as described in a cult feminist work, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Julie, although merely 16, also has an incredible depth to her – she, just as Abbie, transcends all the stereotypes of women who strive towards stability, marriage, family and security. The two of them, together with Dorothea, form a unique matriarchy in which all taboos of what is an appropriate conversation to have at the dinner table, disappear: women sexuality, pregnancy test, contraception, orgasm and giving birth is just a few of the topics that this film shamelessly touches upon. But where Mills, even if just for a second, becomes truly controversial at breaking the social taboos concentrated around women’s biological processes, is with Abbie’s monologue about (and a tribute to) menstruation – to something that’s absolutely natural, and yet is rarely talked about (let alone portrayed in the media, as recent controversy over Instagram picture showed), causing women to hide all the signs of menstruating, as if it is something disgusting and shameful.

Mike Mills broke into the film scene with his debut indie Thumbsucker in 2005. However, it wasn’t until his second feature, Beginners, that his visual, with collages of photographs intertwined style, and with real situations and personal memories entwined narrative voice fully came into being. 20th Century Women, his third feature, is undoubtedly the most logical follow-up to his previous film, as they perfectly complement each other, in more ways than just in visual and narrative style. However, if he was trying to depict (and in the process of that, understand) his father’s coming out as a gay man at the age of 75 in the Beginners, he now focuses on the other parental half – his mother. It goes without saying that this is another deeply personal film, filled with real-life events and situations, through which Mills somewhat therapeutically analyses an enigmatic personality of his late mother, all while paying a tribute to her indescribable complexity, eccentricity and unquestionable uniqueness.

What Mills manages to bring to the screen is a wonderful story about motherhood and women’s friendship, revolving around three incredibly complex and interesting female characters. However, what he also creates with this timeless tribute to strong and empowering women that shaped his life, is a unique time capsule of what life was like in 1979.

“They don’t know this is the end of punk. They don’t know that Reagan’s coming,” Dorothea says at one point in a voice-over narration. But what they don’t know is that world as they know it will soon forever change with destructive neoliberal politics, a complete destruction of welfare state, endless austerity, and never-ending attacks on women’s (reproductive) rights.

Get Out (2017): a cutting social thriller uncovering the horror of liberal racism

Half a century ago, still in the middle of America’s Civil Right’s movement and in the same year interracial marriage became legal in a historic court case Loving v. Virginia (recently brought to screen by Jeff Nichols in his last feature film Loving), Sidney Poitier gets introduced to his girlfriend’s white, liberal parents in Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Not expecting their daughter’s boyfriend would be black, they try to keep their cool and be supportive, but are clearly uncomfortable by the fact that a black man is about to become a part of their family. This makes the film escalate into an inter-generational battle of him trying to justify his cultivation and education that would, despite his race, make him worthy of inclusion into their white nuclear family. And while the plot of Get Out, Jordan Peele’s brilliant debut feature, might at first remind us of Kramer’s classic, the times has changed, and so did the ways in which racism still pervades in our society, casually emerging in everyday encounters even when least expected. Which is why Get Out ends up being a very different movie, albeit no less relevant than Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner proved to be back in 1967.

More The Stepford’s Wives meeting Rosemary’s Baby than Poitier’s racial melodrama, Get Out explores and in many ways subverts the horror genre, all while delivering a scathing social commentary on contemporary racism. It flirts with a social satire, but nonetheless remains serious and horrifying in its accurate portrayal and dissection of race relations and subtle, hidden, almost invisible racism of white liberals who, by admiring black culture and treating every black person as a fascinating, exotic Other (while at the same time pretending they don’t even notice their skin colour, because “they don’t see race”), may be equally harmful as far-right alt-right groups and white supremacists whose racism is always straightforward and therefore easier to detect, condemn and argue against. But where Peele’s subversion of a horror/slasher genre really excels is in how it places a final guy in a position that is usually reserved for a woman – an innocent, virginal final girl. Few men have been in this position, and even fewer have been minorities such as Get Out‘s protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) – and it is this switch of gender and race that makes this movie that much more outstanding.

There is quite a few correlations between Peele’s debut and The Stepford Wives, but each film deals with a different type of social subjugation: if one dealt with a critique of patriarchal society and sexism in the highlight of second-wave feminism, this one delves deep into the core of America’s racism and systematic oppression of racial minorities. And even though it focuses on contemporary racial problems that people, disillusioned by Obama’s presidency and what it meant for racial relations in the country, tried to ignore until things completely escalated in Ferguson, Get Out isn’t afraid to look in the past and leave small hints linking modern-day reality to a time when slavery was still a reality to most African-Americans. Post-racism – a word that was widely thrown around after Obama’s first win, which was also when Peele started to work on the script – is not really a thing, and it never was. But it may have became harder to detect among certain groups of people – namely among white liberals, whose racism became more subtle and sophisticated, undergoing a makeover of political correctness that makes it ever more impossible to talk about race and racial issues in a way these issues should be talked about.

When Chris agrees to go to his girlfriend’s parents house over the weekend, we instantly know that nothing good will come of this. By what Rose (Allison Williams, no less white and privileged than in the role of Marnie in Lena Dunham’s series Girls) tells him, his parents are not racist – and indeed they seem extremely casual and cool by the fact that their daughter is dating someone who’s black. And yet casually (and in most instances, unknowingly) racist comments start to creep into the conversations after some time – especially when Chris finds himself in a company of Rose’s brother and her family’s friends. Some seem to be fascinated by his “genetic makeup”, his potential physical strength, muscles and supposed endowment, others feel like they have to mention at least one famous black person while carrying a conversation (“I know Tiger Woods!”), stating that they would vote for Obama one more time if they could, or simply state that “black is in fashion these days”. Even though each of them carefully avoids acknowledging Chris’s race, they are throwing out comments they would never even think of saying to a white person. Why? They simply see him as Rose’s black boyfriend, a generic black man, instead of as a person – Chris, a photographer that he is.

But things get even weirder when Chris realises that his girlfriend’s supposed liberal white parents who voted for Obama and pride themselves in being open-minded and enjoy to experience new and different cultures through their travels, have a black gardener and a maid; two characters that, at first, seem as the archetypes of old Hollywood’s representation of African-Americans. Walter, physically strong but somewhat creepy and potentially violent is a perfect representation of what was once known as “a savage”, and Georgina comes across as a classic mammy who seems to enjoy nothing more but to serve her white employers and swipe dust off drawers. But Peele’s mind-blowing twist shows that nothing is as it seems – not only is Rose’s family not what they present themselves to be, but Walter and Georgina also turn out being two entirely different people. As does Rose.

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

The entire film is permeated with symbolism and smartly coined phrases that only once you see the film all the way through – or revisit it for the second time – reveal their double meaning. It starts with the intro, where a seemingly unconnected story of a black guy’s abduction unfolds. A white car that creepily slows down and hunts down the man who got lost in the suburbs is reversing the symbolism of the colour white that usually represents something pure and innocent – in contrast to the colour black that tends to be associated with death and evil. Subtle symbolism such as this re-appropriation of the meaning of a certain colour (that in reality all too often gets extended to the understanding of a certain race; white as pure, black as deviant and evil, as portrayed from D. W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation forward) is to be found throughout the entire film – from Rose’s mother wearing white when she first hypnotises Chris, sending him into the Sunken Place, to Rose wearing white in the final, most brutal act where she goes full on psycho and her drinking white milk in a real A Clockwork Orange fashion while her boyfriend is supposedly getting lobotomised in the basement. On the other hand we have the colour black which is continuously re-appearing in relation to something dangerous and bad – as Rose’s dad quite early on explains, there’s “black mold” in the basement which makes it off limits, not to mention there’s people arriving in black attire and limousines that have more resemblance to the funeral than to an annual family meeting (that is, as it is later revealed, a modern-day slave auction disguised as a game of bingo).

But the symbolism hardly stops at colours that Peele smartly incorporates in certain scenes. On a way to Rose’s family estate, far out from the city, the couple hits a deer – and while the accident has a strong connection to Chris’s personal hit and run story, to the way his mother died, the dying deer is first and foremost meant to represent him. Not only is Rose the one who is behind the wheel, causing the accident (as she is also behind the wheel of a racist scheme her family is planning) – she is also the one that initially hunted him down like game and is just waiting to hang his picture up on a bedroom wall among her other trophies, in the same way taxidermied deer is exhibited on the wall where Chris is later held captive. That the deer is supposed to represent Chris who is walking into a trap no one could have ever predicted becomes even more apparent after they tell her parents about the accident. Her father’s response about hating deer and how eradicating them would be a service to their community has a double meaning if we pay close attention to the words he uses. When he casually slips the word “buck” into his argument about deer overpopulating the area, it is hard to say if he is really still talking about animals, since the word “black buck” was once widely used as a racial slur to describe black men who refused to bend down to the authority of white men.

Casually incorporated racial slurs that are mostly long forgotten, games of bingo that end up being slave auctions, a throwback to old Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans and a helmet resembling a Ku Klux Klan’s hat that Jeremy wears when abducting black victims in his ironically white car (an image that gives a whole new meaning to a “knight in shining armour”) is just a few of Peele’s reminders to tragic history of African-Americans. But although we overcame the portrayal of black women as devoted housemaids and men as savages, representation of black people still hasn’t broke free of stereotypes such as gang members, funny sidekick best friends and sassy girlfriends. White supremacists are also alive and well, maybe more than ever now that Trump’s presidency gave a big thumbs up to openly expressing one’s racism. But where I find Peele’s horror-satire most successful is in how it subtly incorporates the question of slavery into the film. Slave auction may seem horrific and somewhat archaic from today’s point of view, but modern-day slavery is a reality that we need to stop ignoring. An auction selling Chris’s body to the highest bidder represents just about any young black man who finds himself in front of a white jury and judges who have the power of holding his whole life in their hands. Chris’s captivity therefore directly correlates with a devastating number of black people currently incarcerated (and used as a free working force; which is nothing else but slavery transferred from plantations to private prisons), while disappearance of his conscience into the Sunken Place represents black people’s feeling of paralysis and helplessness for living in a system that was set out against them from the very beginning. And it is of course no coincidence that the only thing that makes them break free from the Sunken Place is a use of a mobile phone – as phones have been an important part of bringing the reality of police brutality and unjustifiable murders of black people to the public and made discussions about systemic racism, racial inequality and racial profiling possible.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016): teenage angst movie of the decade

The Edge of Seventeen seemed to have appeared out of nowhere when it premièred at last year’s TIFF, but it wasn’t long before it won over both critics and regular audiences alike. Still, with years of disappointment under the belt when it came to teen movies, I remained sceptical. These past years were overflown with either problematic, body shaming teen comedies such as The Duff, Glee spin-offs (Pitch Perfect) or adolescent dramas filled with overly eloquent and grown up characters (Paper Towns) that were nowhere near to what real teenagers are supposed to sound like, let alone go through. It was clear – the golden days of John Hughes’s teen movies were over and while there were some films over the years that somehow did the genre justice, none of them ever managed to reach the greatness and timelessness of the ultimate teen classic, The Breakfast Club (1985). The genre seemed exhausted and uninspired, with one film after another falling into a trap of good girl vs. bad girl logic, vicious catfights and “who is dating who” premises. And then along came The Edge of Seventeen – a fascinating directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig who depicts teenage angst and overall agony of adolescence with such accuracy that it instantly catapulted me back to my dreadful high school experience – even though it’s been almost a decade since I left those horrible, painful and confusing years behind.

Nadine (portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld who excels in the role) is a tomboyish, unpopular and self-absorbed seventeen-year-old who doesn’t quite belong and is yet to find her place under the sun. She doesn’t get along with her peers, nor does she find any refuge at home where she stubbornly fights with her widowed mother whenever she’s not shamelessly hating on her perfect and popular brother. The only person who gets to see the insecure, imperfect but charming Nadine that hides under the carefully constructed façade of uncompromising sarcasm and biting humour with which she keeps everyone else at bay, is her best (and only) friend Krista. That is at least until Krista starts to date Nadine’s brother. Already feeling misunderstood by the entire generation of “mouth-breathers who get a seizure if you take their phone away” and her family, she now starts to isolate herself even more, using sharp sarcasm to protect herself from the world around and self-sabotagingly hurting everyone around  – only to end up getting hurt the most herself.

Where this film really hits the right note is that it avoids going into a direction of high-school hardships and injustices. Nadine’s classmates are not treating her badly and she is never a victim of any kind of social exclusion. It is she herself that isolates her by rejecting the company of everyone around, looking down on her peers and on all they are supposed to represent. She feels like an old soul, wiser and maturer than anyone else around, but it is all just an act and it is sometimes hard to say if even she herself believes in her supposed superiority. She is simply arrogant (as most teenagers are) and deeply insecure, battling her own demons every step of the way. There hasn’t been quite enough films that would effectively explore the idea of how the biggest enemy of an adolescent girl is usually no one else but herself – but The Edge of Seventeen does just that. No matter what is her external situation, whether she runs with the cool crowd or is completely unknown to people at her school, being a teenage girl is exhausting and horrifying, which makes it quite easy for us to sometimes get overwhelmed by our mere existence. Self-doubt and self-questioning are with us every second of the day, no matter how we pretend to look like we have it all figured out, and while this may be what every youngster goes through, there is also constant observation, evaluation and judgement of others that is mostly reserved for girls – and that we at some point start to project onto ourselves. Or as John Berger smartly put it: “A woman is always accompanied, even when quite alone, by her own image of herself. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.” And indeed this is exactly what Nadine goes through and what causes her so much pain, even though she uses her brother dating her best friend as a catalyst for her angsty outbursts:

You know, ever since we were little, I would get this feeling like… Like I’m floating outside of my body, looking down at myself… And I hate what I see… How I’m acting, the way I sound. And I don’t know how to change it. And I’m so scared… That the feeling is never gonna go away.

What makes this character so authentic and relatable is her constant distress and inherent loneliness. Most of us went through a time when we felt completely and utterly alone, when we believed that nobody could possibly understand what we are feeling, what we are going through. And no party, no amount of alcohol, no sleepover with our best friend could make us feel better and fill the utter emptiness and despair that was slowly taking control of our body. Indeed, Nadine is sinking into a depression (just another thing that hit close to home for me, having been battling depression for a better part of high school myself), but the film smartly avoids lingering on her sad, distressed face or focusing on melancholy afternoons of her sinking into self-hating and damaging thoughts. The direction instead remains vibrant throughout the entire film, bringing to light just how invisible depression is to the world and people around us and how hard it sometimes is for us to get to terms with it; admitting to ourselves that it is really our negative mindset and outlook on life that is the cause of our problems and not our sibling dating the “wrong” person.

But even though there is a lot of depth and sadness running through the film, The Edge of Seventeen ultimately comes across as a thoroughly enjoyable and funny cinematic experience. This is mostly due to fantastic comedic chemistry between Nadine and her grumpy history teacher (Woody Harrelson) who seems to be the only one capable of decent comebacks to her sarcastic attacks and who ultimately becomes the only person she trusts and whom she seeks out when in need.

Although it can’t quite compare to the provocative brilliance of last year’s teen indie, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Edge of Seventeen, despite being a mainstream film, ends up being the best teenage angst movie that the past decade had to offer. And why it will probably appeal to generations to come with its timeless wisdom and relatability, is probably most evident in an emotional and cathartic ending when during final confrontation between Nadine and her brother, she finally realizes that she is far from being the only person whose life is filled with problems and who sometimes doesn’t know how to cope with everything that life throws at her. It is a definable moment – one that everyone of us had to go through – when she has to let go of her egotism, realizing that she is just one of many people in the world who feels trapped, burdened and inadequate. And indeed, this feeling may never go away, but as Nadine’s mother would say: “Everyone’s just as miserable and empty, they’re just better at pretending.”

The Basics:
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Written by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 104 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 8

Ma révolution (2016): growing pains of revolutionary Tunisian youngster

Marwann is a carefree teenager on the verge of turning 15 who spends his evenings running around the streets of Paris and unsuccessfully crashing parties of their fellow high-school students to which he never gets invited with his best and equally unpopular friend Felix. Not that they particularly care about being a part of their high-school elite; Marwann’s reason is quite more naive and innocent, for he is simply trying to catch the attention of his attractive classmate Sygrid, a somewhat distant and disinterested Parisian that runs with the “cool crowd” and seems to be completely out of his reach. But this all drastically changes when the Jasmine Revolution breaks out in Tunisia, opening Marwann a whole new world of possibilities for finally breaking out of the shadow by becoming an impressive young revolutionary, fighting for the cause of his homeland.

The film is set in late 2010 when Tunisian president of 23 years was ousted after numerous street demonstrations and other forms of civil resistance that eventually led to democratization of the country and inspired similar protests and attempts of revolution throughout the Arab countries. Marwann, who represents a second generation of Tunisian immigrants, initially does not seem to care much about his cultural roots, nor does he really know anything about Tunisia, its politics or the meaning of the revolt that took over the country. But then he almost by chance finds himself celebrating Tunisia’s uprising that takes place in his neighbourhood, although it is more than clear by that point that his participation is far from politically motivated. As a 15 year old boy, having a good time is mainly all that is on his mind and if this ended up being at the celebration of a Tunisian Revolution, so be it. But when a reporter catches him in a revolutionary pose that ends up being on a cover of a local newspaper, he almost overnight becomes the face of the revolution. And from all his previously failed attempts, it ends up being this event that secures him a spot among the “cool kids”, for he finally becomes a part of their weed-smoking after-school hangouts. But what is even more important; he also starts receiving an increasing amount of attention from Sygrid who seems to be intrigued by the cause and interested in participating in solidarity protests that seem to be taking over the streets of Paris. It is only natural then that he embraces his revolutionary persona, begins to learn about the cause of this political unrest and, for better effect, starts greatly exaggerating his involvement with Tunisian resistance.

While the revolution and Marwann’s gradual reconnection with his Tunisian roots are important parts of this delightful coming-of-age story, they never end up taking over the story completely, for this is first and foremost a story about first love and the revolutionary fight that every teenager eventually partakes in while trying to form their own identity. The revolution thus ends up being both a beautiful metaphor for the turbulent life stage called adolescence that Marwann needs to overcome, as well as an inspiring side-story that gives us some insight into how the idea of homeland changes from one generation of immigrants to another. Marwann, as most youngsters his age, is getting increasingly torn apart between trying to become someone his family expects him to be, while still fitting in with his Parisian peers – and the Jasmine Revolution ends up being just the right event that helps him at successfully navigating both sides of his adolescent life. Him starting to learn about Tunisian history and about the meaning and possible outcomes of protests currently taking place is making his parents immensely happy for they believe he is finally becoming genuinely interested in a country they consider their home, while his newly-obtained and greatly exaggerated involvement in the cause also seems to have a great impact on Sygrid who as a result starts to become ever more affectionate.

While he is mostly all talk and no actions, his parents seem to possess a more genuine revolutionary spirit and it is not long before the two decide to temporarily move back to Tunisia to support the revolution and participate at the increasingly intense civil resistance. Although Marwann initially fights against it, them moving seems to mark his journey towards manhood; him finally being away from the world previously known to him, living under a watchful eye and careful guidance of his uncle and starting to appreciate the country from which his mischievous grandfather once immigrated in search of a better life and future for his family, can be understood as an initiation ritual of sorts, marking his transition from an egoistical child who hardly ever worries about things that do not directly concern him, into a fully grown man who is starting to understand the complexity of the world.

His uncle Lotfi, although in a minor role, therefore ends up being a significant mediator between Marwann’s two lives – between his old life of a Parisian high-school student and his new life of discovering and gradually reconnecting with his Tunisian ancestry. As they are wandering through the streets of Tunis, we can feel the revolution in the air and by the time they find their way into an underground club where a local rapper is performing his infamous song about Tunisian police (that was at the time of shooting banned in the country, causing the mentioned rapper quite a few problems with the authorities), we almost feel like we ourselves are a part of the resistance, participating in their fight for a better future.

This feeling, however, soon gets pushed away as Marwann returns to Paris to be reunited with his love, but even though the ending felt somewhat unsatisfying, My Revolution ultimately ends up being a heart-warming coming-of-age story about the pains of growing up and learning to embrace one’s ancestry. And even though the film acknowledges the growing fear of terrorism that is leading to increased militarization of France, it refreshingly stays away from even mentioning the religion of Marwann’s family. It does not happen often enough to see a film about an Arab family where Islam is never even mentioned, let alone being presented as the core of their identity and family dynamics. This alone makes My Revolution a much-needed film about France’s Arab diaspora and even though the film is initially addressing teenage audience, its delightful and amusing story and endearing, naturalistic performances (even by the first-time actor Samuel Vincent) will make Silman’s debut feature a pleasant viewing experience for all generations.

I saw this film on the opening night of International Film Festival for Children and Youth “Eye on Film” in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The Basics:
Directed by: Ramzi Ben Silman
Written by: Ramzi Ben Silman, Thomas Cailley and Nathalie Saugeon
Starring: Samuel Vincent, Anamaria Vartolomei, Lucien Le Guern, Nassim Haddouche, Lubna Azabal, Samir Guesmi
Running Time: 80 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 7

Nerve (2016): killer app taking over generation Z of Pokémon Go era

Neon lights reminiscent of Korine’s deranged and hedonistic Spring Breakers shine through this teenage techno-thriller that unapologetically throws us into the life of a high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts) and her generation Z peers, whose virtually-mediated reality gets a daring and dangerous twist with a sudden emergence of a new game/phone app called Nerve. Almost overnight the game seems to overflow the entire Manhattan and even those who are reluctant to join eventually give in, either due to sheer interest or as a result of relentless peer pressure.

Vee, a quiet teenager who likes to stay inside her comfortable zone and tries to avoid any (un)wanted attention (that persistently follows her ostentatious best friend), is definitely one of the later. And while she otherwise seems content by her unexciting and adrenaline-free life, she eventually caves in to her peers – if only to prove the point that she is not as boring and afraid of seizing life as everyone assumes. To prove that she too can be hip and cool, she impulsively decides to join the game – and not just that. There are two options of participating – you can either be a watcher; a voyeur hidden behind the screen, watching others except and complete dares for money, or you can step out of the shadow and become a player. Which is exactly what Vee decides to do.

Soon after she completes the first dare she teams up with a mysterious Ian (Dave Franco) and it is not long after they join forces that the dares start to escalate into ever more crazy and impossible scenarios. Things eventually go too far, with film losing its main power of being scary exactly because it was plausible. Instead it moves into a sphere of impossible to the point of ridiculous, resulting in a weird hybrid of the show Jackass and The Hunger Games. Nerve indeed seems to be putting to a test both how far the players are prepared to go at excepting stupid and life-threatening dares in return for some quick cash and momentary fame, as well as how far the watchers are prepared to go at demanding petrifying tasks for their own entertainment. But instead of staying in a scary-enough territory of things that could (and probably, at some point, did) happen, it completely loses its way in the second half and it never quite manages to pick itself back up from the messiness it got itself into.

While the players slowly start to drop out as the dares become ever more brutal and dangerous, the watchers do not seem to care about the line of what is still legal and acceptable. Feeling safe behind their computers, they keep on rising the stakes and it is not long before the game turns into a modern-day gladiator arena. They want blood, they want fatalities – and by this time there is hardly any options to get out anymore; it is simply kill or be killed.

The film is very aware of its post-Snowden era and the cinematography, constantly switching perspectives between film, mobile and computer camera, indeed gives us a feeling of the players constantly being spied on and surveilled; as if the web itself had eyes, persistently observing their every move. At times the perspective also moves to that of anonymous watchers watching the game on their phones or computers, ruthlessly commenting on what should happen next, while also continuously posting harsh comments that borderline on cyber-bullying. But Joost and Schulman (whose Nerve marks their return to exploring the darker side of internet identities and anonymity after their 2010 documentary Catfish) fail to carry this side narrative to any meaningful ending. Although Nerve clearly draws some inspiration from last year’s cyber-horror film Unfriended, it does not manage to tackle the cyber-bullying quite as successfully – instead of showing us just how brutal anonymous watchers can be, how they rarely understand the consequences of posting an insensitive vlog or comment, of clicking a button that could determine someone’s fate and how (even when confronted) they rarely feel any remorse about their actions, Nerve turns the narrative into a ridiculous hacker-war where watchers become semi-accountable for their actions; only that nothing actually happens except for everyone leaving the game by temporarily going offline. Perhaps we were supposed to believe that they actually felt remorse after they got exposed as accomplices in a crime; but why would they? Why would they not just turn to a new gaming platform where their anonymity would be restored, where they would be able to continue operating in the same, hurtful manner?

Nerve clearly seemed to have bigger aspirations at making a social commentary about contemporary teen culture and perils of technology than it actually manages to deliver, but it still manages to make some relevant points which elevate this film into a far more entertaining experience than I have initially anticipated. However, it does not come even close to portraying the deranged youth culture obsessing over fame, wealth and immoral hedonistic escapades as Harmony Korine did in Spring Breakers, and it furthermore fails at successfully blurring the lines of when the game is actually being played and when the game, by becoming bigger than life, starts to play us, as the criminally underrated Cronenberg’s eXistenZ managed to do. By relying too heavily on currently relevant social media to be able to survive the passage of time and by ending the story in a far too simplistic manner, this film will leave the majority of people somewhat unsatisfied, but for today’s teens of the Pokémon Go era it will undoubtedly go down as one of this year’s best cinematic experiences.

The Basics:
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Written by: Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan)
Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Juliette Lewis
Running Time: 96 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 5