Just two days after The Effect’s final performance at the National Theatre, the BFI next door held the premiere of another thought experiment addressing the correlation between science and romance.
In Fingernails, Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White) are one of the few couples that survived the social crisis unleashed by the development of a physiological test able to determine two people’s love for each other. While Ryan feels assured with their positive result, Anna doesn’t want to rest on their oars, and starts a new job at the Love Institute: a clinic dedicated to strengthening romantic bonds.
In its particular style of quirkiness, dubbed the “Greek Weird Wave”, one can see director Christos Nikou’s proximity to Yorgos Lanthimos, whom he assisted on Dogtooth. Fingernails is Nikou’s first English language feature and brims with inventive world-building, which makes for some stimulating as well as genuinely amusing scenes. Subjects are encouraged to give themselves electroshocks when their partner leaves the house in order to condition a connection of the painful sensation with their absence. Hugh Grant is deemed an expert on the topic of love and his movies are studied religiously.
The impressive supporting cast includes Luke Wilson as head of the institute and Riz Ahmed as an instructor; even Annie Murphy makes an (all-too-brief) appearance. Their comedic talents cultivate the script’s bizarre elements, however as the audience gets settled, and the story heads towards a more accustomed direction, the feature regrettably loses some of its charm.
What could have made for a brilliant Black Mirror episode in its critical examination of technology and our self-imposed rules of what romantic relationships should look like, suffers in its final execution from the universally dreaded “Third Act Syndrome”. Characters suddenly act rashly (as if aware they need to inflate conflict), but without the payoff of the audience witnessing an actual escalation, and the ending feels unsatisfyingly neat, like a bow that has been tied into cable clutter.
While it is not advisable to watch Fingernails on a first date, the picture still comes recommended due to the vital themes it discusses in its foundation.
Fingernails is released on Apple TV+ on 3rd November 2023.
Watch the trailer for Fingernails here: