'Fingernails' Can't Sink Its Claws into Its Compelling Premise

Directed by Christos Nikou

Starring Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White, Luke Wilson, Annie Murphy

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

BY Rachel HoPublished Nov 2, 2023

In Christos Nikou's latest film, the concept of mind over heart is pushed to its limits. Creating a world not dissimilar to ours, Nikou posits a reality where true love can be objectively decided by testing the fingernails of two lovelorn hopefuls. For those who receive a positive test, an "In Love Certification" is issued; for the less compatible, it's the end of the road.

Amir (Riz Ahmed) works at the Love Institute, taking couples through various exercises to develop their connection in preparation for the test, which involves pulling out a fingernail of each partner and running it through a computer program. Anna (Jessie Buckley), who has been certified in love with her partner Ryan (Jeremy Allen White), decides she'd like to work at the institute and begins training under Amir. Although pleased with her and Ryan's positive result, after meeting Amir, Anna begins to question the reliability of the test. 

Similar to his previous film Apples, Nikou designs a world so similar to ours that the slight differences cause an unsettling but compelling itch. Adding to this world is the moody cinematography of Marcell Rév, which paints the film in rich shadows with spurts of harsh light for contrast. 

Ahmed, Buckley, White and a too-briefly-used Annie Murphy make for a layered ensemble. Buckley navigates a well-worn relationship with White and a budding romance with Ahmed delicately and believably. Ahmed, though, stands out as the effortlessly charming yet apprehensive Amir — it's just too bad that he and the rest of the cast weren't given a stronger story to work with.

The general premise of Fingernails presents a multitude of questions ripe for thoughtful discussion, especially given the prevalence of AI, algorithms and dating apps. Initially, Nikou's script explores the inherent themes and consequences of the institute and testing with careful consideration — but for as intriguing as the premise is, its mileage is apparently low. Rather than digger deeper into the social, practical and philosophical ramifications, Fingernails gets bogged down in its semi-love triangle, which not only weakens the film as a whole, but also cheapens the original idea. 

Unlike ApplesFingernails just doesn't quite hit the nail on the head in spite of its captivating narrative. Regardless, among a sea of adaptations, reboots and sequels, Nikou remains a filmmaker worth treasuring. His ideas are original, clever, thought-provoking and translate into fully-realized worlds that only punctuate the motifs he examines.
(Apple TV+)

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