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NIGHT VISIONS 2019: FINGERS
Amanda fears physical shortcomings. Birthmarks freak her out. The color of skin terrifies her; the darker it is, the more she screams.
Amanda is not well.
One day her co-worker shows up at work with a missing pinkie, and it’s not long before Amanda has not so much fallen down the rabbit hole as dove into one headfirst while doing a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Meanwhile, a group of masked criminals are hounding a man for his fingers, each day coming back for another one.
Is Amanda crazy? Who are the masked bandits? Why are they doing this, and what is the going rate for a finger these days? Those are only some of the questions that FINGERS, the sophomore film from director Juan Ortiz doesn’t even bother to answer, but I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing.
FINGERS exists entirely in a dreamlike landscape, where logic isn’t tethered to anything, and whatever happens happens because it makes sense in that particular moment. It’s comparable to a nightmare in the sense that you don’t know how you got to a place, but you know that whatever you’re doing is paramount. Be that cutting fingers for a paycheck, stealing a dog to make a point, or dancing like a lunatic in a panda mask in the middle of the night. Even the locations emphasize the isolation from reality. Most of the time we don’t see the big picture, only the immediate entrance to things, the interior, or cramped hallway. Situations begin abruptly and end much the same way.
For better or worse, FINGERS is the kind of movie that not just asks you to go along with all this – it demands the audience for total submission.
This is both a blessing and a curse. The former because director Juan Ortiz knows exactly how to carry the fine tone of the film (think love child between Wes Anderson and John Waters), and how to emphasize the banal absurdism in its DNA. There’s a hilarious scene where Amanda’s assistant arrives to announce that their co-worker has arrived with yet another missing finger, and both the editing and a very funny Sabina Friedman-Seitz sell the confused, astounded, and utterly repulsed reaction perfectly. Friedman-Seitz in particular shines as Amanda, a character profoundly broken and terrible, who Seitz still manages to make interesting and compelling. If the common trope in horror films is the doe-eyed girl about to be tortured, Seitz trades the shocked look for PTSD Bambi with nothing to lose, and everything to gain from wrecking things.
In other parts the cult film staple Michael St. Michaels makes a perplexing turn as the potential mastermind behind the lunacy, while a very game Jeremy Gardner gets all the best lines as a talky finger-thief. Gardner and Seitz are on screen the most, and each is a genuine pleasure to spend time with. Even when that time is spent wallowing in an awkward pool of bodily fluids and hysteria.
But sticking to this tone is also a curse, one that becomes more apparent the longer the film goes on. The absurdist situations begin to lose steam, and the ending lacks the kind of big release that would serve as a catharsis for the rest of the film. This probably is intentional, as the final period on the whole thing is as dry and twee as anything in the story so far, yet I can’t help but feel that a final leap into true insanity would have pushed the film into future cult classic territory easier.
As it stands, FINGERS is a baffling exploration of… well, something. It might not have a point at all, and exists solely to make us experience a manifestation of another person’s fever dream. Whatever the answer may be, FINGERS is unlike anything you’ll see all year and a great calling card for everyone involved. It’s the kind of film we’ll look back years from now to see where the artistic signatures of talented filmmakers and actors first took root.