I’ve always found it funny that the acronym for the medical term referring to social anxiety (Social Anxiety Disorder) is “SAD.” I like to believe that was done as a joke by whoever it was who made SAD a thing. But joke or not, the actual symptoms that come with Social Anxiety Disorder aren’t particularly funny. If you’re a terrible person, you might find panic attacks and an inability to confront others funny, but mostly they’re really kind of… well, sad.
Nerve is a movie about a person trying to overcome Social Anxiety Disorder. For what it’s worth, it’s actually pretty funny.
Director: J.R. Sawyers
Release Date: May 25, 2012
Josh Biggs (Tyler Langdon) has Social Anxiety Disorder. It’s presumed that he has been that way for most of his life, and although he isn’t really happy about it, his life is hardly a living hell. Then one day, his friend Aurora (Laura Alexandra Ramos) asks him to be a test subject for her dissertation. It’s not clear exactly what she is trying to get her PhD in, but I imagine she wants to be a psychologist or something like that. Anyways, she convinces Josh that he should try to get over his anxiety, and he agrees to do so, although I think it’s mostly because she’s attractive. Some guys are willing to go to pretty ridiculous lengths to impress girls.
In order to get over his anxiety, Josh needs to go out into the world, meet new people, and make rash decisions. I’m not actually sure that last one is part of his homework, but it’s probably the thing he takes most to heart. He immediately starts bringing a bunch of homeless people back to his apartment, making his coke-addicted roommate justifiably unhappy. On top of that, he starts acting like a jerk at work and gets himself into some unpleasant situations. The problem is overcompensation. Josh has been pent up and shy and anxious for so long that he feels the need to be the exact opposite of how he was. Old Josh would let a man cut him in line; new Josh punches that man in the face. Moments like that show that he swung too far in the process of trying to right himself.
But even when he is in the middle of making terrible decisions which will no doubt come back to haunt him, the anxiety is still there. Dares and bets and stupidity don’t make (legitimate) disorders go away. It’s not that simple. Nerve‘s way of expressing that is through its sound design. As he begins to panic, about this, that, or the other thing, a subtle heartbeat goes onto the soundtrack. As his panic increases, so does the intensity of the heartbeat. I’ve always found the sound of a heartbeat to be stressful (which may or may not be true for other people), but its use put me into a more anxious mindset, one that gave me more insight into Josh’s. If that was the desired effect, bravo. If it wasn’t, I recommend pretending it was and taking the credit anyhow.
Aside from that, the sound design is kind of strange. There are other uses of sound effects to give an audible summary of Josh’s emotions (like a lightning strike during a moment of anger), which work well enough but which don’t hit the same kind of significance. But it’s really the soundtrack itself, which seems to be mostly made up of classical-esque music and church choirs, that caused me the most confusion. It’s not bad by any means, nor does it really hurt the film, but it sticks out. The first time I heard it, I expected the characters to go to a church, but they didn’t. After a while, I got used to it and thought it was fine, but it was initially off-putting. That being said, the music is far from offensive, so even if it didn’t fit all the time, I never felt compelled to turn it off.
The only real technical issues come when people start shouting, because the mics clearly spiked and fidelity was lost. It’s a pretty rare occurrence (anxious people don’t like yelling), but when it happened I always sighed a bit. It’s the kind of thing that could never make it into a big-budget film, which makes Nerve stand out as an indie film. Indie sensibilities are cool, and they can definitely make a film unique and interesting. Indie technical issues, however, are just disappointing. Given that everything else looks and sounds good (even if it’s strange), it was sad to witness the few moments of technical failure.
I said earlier that Nerve is funny, and I think the film’s ability to handle humor is one of its strongest points. What we are actually witnessing is the complete breakdown of a person’s life. He has been going on this one road for so long, and now he’s veering off it, and he has no idea what he’s doing. He’s inevitably going to crash, and we are presumably (but not necessarily) watching him get there. So it’s sad, and quite a bit of the film reflects that, but it’s frequently a lighthearted affair. There aren’t too many big jokes (although the few that are there are pretty good), but the humor is sprinkled throughout in comments and situations and keeps things from getting too depressing. There is no question that Nerve could have gone the entirely serious route, but I’m glad it didn’t.
When the ending came, it initially seemed a bit too abrupt for me. There’s still more of Josh’s story, quite a bit more. Exactly how he deals with the ramifications of the final scene are entirely unclear… but that’s a good thing. In fact, I think it’s probably the best way the film could have ended. Had it gone any longer, the impact of the thing that happened would have been diminished. Seeing how Josh reacts to something which he really should have seen coming (but was being too much of a jerk to care about) is fascinating. It’s also real. I completely believed that he would react that way, and in that revelatory moment, what I was there to see had come to an end. Everything had led up to that moment, and Josh proved to be more than just a character in a film trying to make some grand point about social anxiety.
Instead, Josh was a human. A poor, sad human.