Nerve: Sydney Review

A sluggish pulse drags this thriller down.

First-time filmmaker Sebastien Guy explores themes of sex, loss and guilt in a Sydney-set psychodrama.

A tangled knot of sex and regret slackens early in first-time filmmaker Sebastien Guy’s Nerve, an underwhelming Australian psychodrama about a cuckold trying to track down his wife’s lover after she’s killed in a car accident. Guy, a Sydney-based former director of television commercials, shows flashes of budding talent but his visuals do little to camouflage a slight storyline that lacks any genre-mandated momentum. Shot in just 14 days on a skimpy budget, the rough-edged morality tale, which just had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, looks to have limited prospects beyond local festival outings.

Rather than the jangling jumpiness suggested by the title, Nerve opens somewhat lethargically, introducing the grieving Jakob (Christian Clark) through an impressionistic series of mopey, city-by-night vignettes offering plenty of scope to ponder Clark’s startling resemblance to Tom Cruise circa-Top Gun.

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Jakob is sad. Therapy sessions with an attractive, ambiguously framed shrink (Andrea Demetriades) function as a back-story Cliffs Notes, revealing that he suffered a nervous breakdown following his wife’s death, and that he had discovered her in bed with another man just before the car crash. He can’t bear to go home to the marital abode, so randomly answers an ad and is soon rooming in a grungy inner-city share-house with a pretty but mercurial junkie, Grace (Georgina Haig.)

Then, Jakob gets mad. Finding and confronting his wife’s lover is the only way he’ll find closure and he works up a head of steam tracking him down, with Grace as sidekick matching him flare-up for (seemingly arbitrary) flare-up.

Veteran Australian actor Gary Sweet adds some depth as the dead woman’s quietly devastated father, but Clark and Haig struggle with the insipid dialogue and melodramatic contrivances.

Forcibly striving for a dark-hued edginess, Guy is left stranded by the repetitive and overly simplistic script he co-wrote with Sarah Smith. After paddling around in the shallows of Jakob’s disintegrating psyche for the lion’s share of screen time, the film abruptly dials up the hysteria, making the resulting violence feel like a blood-nosed afterthought.

Venue: Sydney Film Festival

Production companies: Luscious International Pictures, Cornerstone Pictures

Cast: Christian Clark, Georgina Haig, Craig Hall, Gary Sweet, Andrea Demetriades

Director: Sebastien Guy

Screenwriters: Sebastien Guy, Sarah Smith

Producer: Neal Kingston

Executive producers: Marcus Gillezeau, Sebastien Guy, Andrew Morris

Co-producer: Christian Clark

Director of photography: James L. Brown

Production designer: Ella Carey

Costume designer: Michael Price

Editors: Eric Seaburn, Laurence van Camp

Sales:Luscious International Pictures

No rating, 85 minutes