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Fingernails review – Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed’s chemistry can’t save paper-thin love story

Christos Nikou’s English-language debut aims to be a sadistically comical treatment of relationship insecurity, but ends up saying little

Within the first few minutes of Christos Nikou’s sci-fi-inflected satire Fingernails, in which a medical test has been devised to determine whether two subjects are truly in love, viewers will probably ask themselves why anyone would trust the readout of a machine over their own heart. The only feasible motivation presented in the film is that it helps predict the likelihood of divorce in future – but why throw away a good relationship just because a microwave attached to a vintage TV set said so? Rational audiences will quickly conclude that we can’t do better than to follow the nudges of our desires, and pay the magic love science – how does one measure love, anyway? – about as much mind as we would a compatibility quiz in the back of a magazine. And yet it takes the characters in this misbegotten speculative thought experiment nearly two hours to figure that out and notice the gaping hole in the middle of a paper-thin premise.

Nikou, formerly an assistant director to his Greek countryman Yorgos Lanthimos, makes his English-language debut in much the same way as his mentor did, with a conceptual amendment to the laws of attraction. But where Lanthimos’ film The Lobster brought a mordant non-realism to a take-no-prisoners spin on dating, this film takes a more pedestrian approach to relationship insecurity, with one quirky hook. Following the sadistically comical lines laid down by Lanthimos, Fingernails’ storyline requires that all test participants allow an administrator to rip off a nail with a pair of pliers. Even that has a literal-minded stupidity to it: an opening title card states that malfunctions of the heart first manifest as symptoms in the fingernails, and in a moment of desperation, one woman becomes convinced that they are the source of her anxiety, that stubbier digits will erase her problems.

Fingernails premieres on Apple TV+ on 3 November

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