Fingernails Telluride Review: Fingernails,” the eagerly awaited second feature by director Christos Nikou, fails to deliver on its promise, according to critics at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival. Despite a unique premise that explores the scientific quantification of love through a “fingernail test,” the film ends up feeling like a half-baked exercise. This disappoints fans who had high hopes following Nikou’s brilliant 2020 debut, “Apples.”
In an alternate but familiar world, “Fingernails” follows a group of thirties friends as they navigate love and relationships. Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are at the center as a machine compares their fingernails to prove their love. Anna later works at a “love institute,” hiding her new employment from Ryan. She grows close to her coworker Amir (Riz Ahmed), and the film investigates if their love should replace hers.
The film’s society is enamored with the “fingernail test,” a new medical test that assesses love. Anna and Ryan had a 100% positive test three years before. The test has changed society, with couples breaking up if they score poorly. Anna later joins a love institute that helps couples fall in love, and the same machine tests their compatibility. While both Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed are compelling actors, their on-screen chemistry falls short. The connection between their characters is more cute than romantic, adding to the list of elements in the film that failed to impress. Buckley’s relationship with White, who plays Ryan, also lacks the spark that could have elevated the narrative.
Nikou’s alternate world struggles with an inconsistent aesthetic. While meant to be contemporary, the film includes ’90s cars and lacks any modern technology, such as cell phones or laptops. This partial commitment to a non-digital world distracts more than it adds to the story. The film opens with a title card discussing how fingernails can indicate heart problems, aiming to explore if love could be scientifically determined. While this is an intriguing concept, the execution falls flat. The idea doesn’t get the inspired treatment it deserves, leaving the audience unengaged.
In a somewhat unsettling detail, the film includes several scenes where Anna and Amir pull off the fingernails of their clients to administer the test. Although not horror, these scenes are not for the faint-hearted. While “Fingernails” had the potential to explore love in a modern, scientific world, it ultimately comes off as uninspired. Nikou seems to be struggling with the notorious “sophomore slump,” and this film doesn’t live up to the expectations set by his debut.
Despite its compelling premise and talented cast, the film does not manage to fulfill its promise. It leaves one wondering what could have been if it had fully committed to its concept and world-building. For those who had been looking forward to Christos Nikou’s follow-up to “Apples,” “Fingernails” is a disappointing affair, lacking both in emotional depth and conceptual execution.