Greek director Christos Nikou follows up his 2020 feature debut Apples with another contemplative sci-fi film that examines aspects of human relationships through speculative fiction. Like Apples, which portrayed a world afflicted by memory-erasing disease, Nikou’s latest titled Fingernails imagines a test that can definitively measure whether couples are in love. This audacious premise allows Nikou and his co-writers to explore ideas about passion, compatibility, and the unpredictability of romance.
Leading the cast is Jessie Buckley, who has drawn acclaim for intense dramatic work like The Lost Daughter and Women Talking. She’s joined by Jeremy Allen White of the hit show The Bear, and Riz Ahmed who brings his trademark magnetism. With production from Cate Blanchett’s company Dirty Films, Fingernails debuted on the festival circuit before a November multi-platform release.
In this review, we’ll analyze the film’s sci-fi concept, performances, themes and craft to determine if Fingernails offers a satisfying cinematic experience deserving of your time. Does Nikou make compelling use of his central idea or does the conceit fall flat? Read on to find out.
Love Put to the Test
Fingernails takes place in a near future where a scientific test has been developed to measure romantic compatibility between couples. The test requires each partner to have a fingernail removed, with the nail samples then analyzed to produce a “love percentage” between 0-100%. A 100% match means both individuals are equally in love, while lower scores indicate one-sided affection.
The story follows Anna, an elementary school teacher in a long-term relationship with her devoted boyfriend Ryan. Years prior, Anna and Ryan took the fingernail test and scored a perfect 100% love match. However, despite this certainty Anna has recently felt restless and disengaged, going through the motions of domestic life with Ryan.
When Anna’s school closes, she secretly takes a new job at the Love Institute, the company that administers the compatibility tests. There she meets instructor Amir, who is training her in how to oversee testing on clients. As they spend time together analyzing both real and pretend couples, Anna begins developing feelings for Amir that make her further doubt the supposedly foolproof test results with Ryan.
Anna also takes interest in two particular clients, the young and passionate Rob and Sally, who seem to have a tangible intimacy that eludes Anna and Ryan. Watching Rob find Sally blindfolded just by her scent is profoundly moving to Anna in a way her settled life with Ryan is not. Over time, her emotional connection and unspoken attraction to Amir deepens, despite his supposed relationship with a woman named Natasha.
When the truth comes out about Natasha at a work party, Anna realizes she and Amir are both concealing their dissatisfaction beneath the veneer of the test results. This only amplifies Anna’s uncertainty about whether the love test truly captures the unpredictable magic of real human attraction and bonding.
The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
At the core of Fingernails is a tension between the scientific testing of love and the unquantifiable nature of actual human emotion. The compatibility test promises an end to uncertainty, using technology to categorically measure the most irrational of feelings. Yet as Anna becomes more ensconced in administering the tests, the more she sees the arbitrary, even absurd ways couples are evaluated. Singing in French and skydiving together seem to have little correlation to being soulmates.
Ultimately Anna’s own awakening desires for Amir fly in the face of her supposedly concrete 100% test result with Ryan. No matter what the machine says, Anna cannot deny the magnetic pull she feels toward her co-worker in moments of vulnerability and intimacy. Their passions ignite through dancing, inside jokes, and an electricity communicated through glances and body language. This makes a mockery of the test’s reduction of love to factual percentages. Fingernails argues technology can never capture the mystery of how two people forge a profound connection. Love is not a science.
Beyond its central conflict between emotion and data, Fingernails also explores the distinct pleasures of passion versus long-term love. Anna is restless and bored by her routine domestic life with Ryan, despite having the security of a perfect test score. Their time together has become stale and predictable, causing Anna to crave the excitement of new romance.
She sees that intoxication in both her flirtations with Amir as well as the young couple Rob and Sally. There is a joy in the uncertainties of fresh affection that sustained relationships struggle to maintain. Yet while Fingernails values the wonders of passion, it also does not completely dismiss the comforts and security that Anna’s life with Ryan provides. The film depicts both the thrills of the unknown and the importance of stability with nuance.
Ultimately, Fingernails suggests meaningful human connection relies on a balance between the comforts of love and the dizzying wonders of passion. A test can never quantify which relationships achieve this equilibrium. It is only through living the ups and downs of intimacy that one can find a truly fulfilling partnership.
A Lush Visual Palette Rich with Contrasts
Fingernails director Christos Nikou and his team create a distinctive visual world that cleverly meshes sci-fi concepts with a retro, almost analog sensibility. There is a lo-fi sci-fi aesthetic at play, with the film’s vintage wooden interiors and furnishings clashing poignantly with the supposedly advanced compatibility testing technology.
Nikou frequently relies on muted, desaturated color palettes and low lighting to emphasize the emotional distances between his characters. Meanwhile, cinematographers Marcell Rév and Yorgos Zafeiris use precise camerawork to underline themes of yearning and disconnection. Their lenses linger on telling details like fingers barely touching and stolen glances of curiosity across rooms.
Music also plays a potent role in shaping the film’s tone and mood. Composer Christopher Stracey’s score captures the ravenous need for passion and the confused longing felt by Anna. Yet the music disappears entirely during the test scenes, replaced by the grueling sounds of fingernails being forcibly ripped from fingers. This reflects the clinical cruelty of reducing love to a physical procedure.
By artfully integrating visuals and music, Fingernails creates an immersive world equally defined by its romantic hopefulness and its chilling elements of dystopia. The sumptuous aesthetics fill in the emotional space left unexplained by the film’s central scientific conceit.
Standout Performances Bring Emotional Nuance
In the lead role of Anna, Jessie Buckley brings her trademark expressiveness and volatility to a character defined by both confusion and conviction. Buckley is utterly compelling in communicating Anna’s restless uncertainty, particularly in domestic scenes with Jeremy Allen White’s Ryan where their lack of intimacy is palpable. Yet she also excels at portraying Anna’s awakened passion for Amir, with potent displays of surprise, temptation, and guilt as she entertains the prohibited attraction.
Buckley’s innate magnetism and emotional transparency ground the film, offering nuance and humanity to a character that could have easily felt thinly conceived. She makes Anna’s journey thoroughly believable, earning both our empathy and frustration. It is a textured performance only an actor of Buckley’s skills could provide.
As Anna’s devoted if unexciting boyfriend Ryan, Jeremy Allen White brings his signature authenticity and sweetness to a character that requires much to be conveyed through small gestures. White makes vivid Ryan’s satisfaction with their relationship despite Anna’s creeping discontent. Meanwhile, Riz Ahmed’s natural magnetism simmers under the surface as Amir, expertly telegraphing the character’s own suppressed longing through subtle glances and body language. The contrast demonstrates why Anna could be drawn in two directions, with both actors doing excellent work.
The supporting cast also boasts strong turns from Annie Murphy as Amir’s pretend girlfriend and Luke Wilson as Anna’s quirky boss. Their scenes provide welcome moments of humor and heart within the film’s solemn sci-fi trappings. Additionally, Christian Meer and Amanda Arcuri make an impact as the young couple whose tangible passions captivate Anna. Their chemistry and tenderness offer inspiration amidst the movie’s many failed connections.
Missed Opportunities With Supporting Characters
While Jessie Buckley’s performance as Anna is a standout, the supporting characters fail to truly enhance the film. Jeremy Allen White brings authenticity as her boyfriend Ryan, but his role feels underdeveloped. We never fully understand what drew Anna to him originally, making her discontent confusing.
Similarly, Riz Ahmed is effortlessly magnetic as Amir, yet the screenplay does little to establish a palpable romantic connection between him and Anna. Their dynamic rests more on abstract longing glances than meaningful interaction. Even Annie Murphy’s lively turn as Amir’s pretend girlfriend Natasha isn’t afforded enough screen time to register.
These supporting roles could have provided exciting points of contrast and tension. Ryan could have been crafted as a more flawed yet sympathetic figure, giving Anna’s attraction to Amir more nuance. Amir and Anna’s burgeoning relationship needed more substantive scenes to make their strong feelings believable. Better fleshing out of the secondary characters was needed to bring the central conflict to vivid life.
Unfortunately, the thinly conceived supporting roles miss opportunities to truly maximize the film’s dramatic potential. They fail to bolster and complicate the intriguing premise.
A Thought-Provoking Concept Weakened by Missteps
In the end, Fingernails is a film of pronounced strengths and flaws that leave it falling slightly short of its ambitious goals. Director Christos Nikou deserves credit for conceiving a thought-provoking sci-fi premise that allows insightful exploration of romantic dynamics. Examining the push-and-pull between data and emotion when it comes to love offers rich thematic terrain. Nikou also demonstrates a keen eye for production design and visuals, creating an immersive retro-futuristic world.
Where the film stumbles is in the execution and specificity of its central concept. The actual mechanics of the love tests are murky, relying on quasi-scientific notions that can strain believability. There is a missed opportunity to more firmly establish the rules and stakes governing this audacious technology. The screenplay also struggles to develop the character relationships beyond surface-level brooding, sapping some emotional resonance from the story.
Nevertheless, committed performances do elevate the material, especially Jessie Buckley’s complex work as the restless Anna. She provides a raw nerve center that grounds the film’s loftier pretensions. Supporting turns by Jeremy Allen White and Riz Ahmed offer further highlights. The score and cinematography also help conjure the otherworldly mood, even when the writing falters.
Ultimately Fingernails shows promise but lacks the polish and depth of truly substantial sci-fi. Diehard fans of the genre may find rewards here, but most viewers will be left wanting. Nikou certainly has talent worth nurturing, especially in his ability to fuse high concept genre thrills with intimate human drama. But Fingernails only delivers fitfully on that alluring potential. Its uneven execution makes mild recommendation the fairest verdict. See it for Buckley’s work and clever themes, but expect occasional disengagement as flaws accrue.
Overall, Fingernails is a creatively conceived but uneven sci-fi romance that shows flashes of brilliance, but ultimately leaves something to be desired in its execution. While the performances and visual style shine, the shaky screenplay and sporadic pacing hinder what could have been a deeply impactful film. Despite some satisfying moments, the flaws outweigh the strengths in this case.
- Thought-provoking premise exploring love and technology
- Striking visual aesthetic with retro sci-fi vibe
- Strong lead performance by Jessie Buckley
- Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White provide solid support
- Conjures an immersive, otherworldly mood
- Ambitious themes around emotions vs data
- Some cleverly conceived scenarios and visuals
- Uneven screenplay with underdeveloped characters
- Romantic relationships lack chemistry
- Pacing drags at times in second half
- Rules of central concept not clearly defined
- Emotional stakes feel low
- Storytelling falls short of bold premise
- Body horror elements feel gratuitous
- Uneven blend of tones
- Falls short of potential for a resonant sci-fi