[CFF 2019 Review] Fingers

When you’re covering festivals, there’s always that one (if you’re lucky) movie that just doesn’t gel with you for whatever reason. Festivals, in my limited experience, offer a smorgasbord of films and it’s just a numbers game that some just don’t click. Some may even make you tilt your head and think, what the fuck did I just watch?

And then there’s a movie like Fingers.

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Fingers is a movie that defies any sort of plot synopsis. But I’ll try. It begins with low thudding synth music as a night road is only illuminated by the headlights of a truck slowly chasing after a fleeing man. The man’s name is Walter (Stan Madray) and he seems as lost about what’s happening as we are. “What do you want from me?”, he begs as a man wearing a ski mask that looks like a demonic Mickey Mouse exits the truck and starts doing an interpretive dance. The dance turns from joyousness to mania as his body fills up the camera.

Then we’re whiplashed to Amanda (Sabina Friedman-Seitz) as she carefully examines her face in a mirror, looking for blemishes. Her face is perfection, but she doesn’t stop. She touches her cheeks. Her lips. Mouth. Checks her teeth. A single tear. There’s something wrong we can’t see. Amanda has issues, which is clearly communicated when she orders donuts and discovers the server has a birthmark. She pays for the donuts, but then immediately throws them in the trash.

Things get worse (and weirder) for her when she gets to work and her intern Lizzy (Taylor Zaudtke) tells her that Walter has shown up to work, missing a pinky. Amanda freaks and tells Lizzy that he has to leave. Around a campfire that night, she drinks wine with friends and her husband Peter (Alex Zuko) and we realize just how off-kilter her bigotry is. “I hope he gets hit by a bus,” she casually remarks about poor Walter. In private, she tells her friend she’s pregnant and doesn’t think she’s in love with Peter. Oh and she can’t have the baby because she’s, in her words, a “monster.” I can’t disagree, but at least she’s self-aware…I guess?

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Amanda sees a recommended doctor named Dr. Scotty (Michael Richardson). “Know that I’m not a racist but short black men freak me out…the darker their skin color, the more my stomach turns,” she tells the black Dr. Scotty, who stares at her with deepening confusion (or are those dollar signs?). The next day, Walter comes in missing a second finger. This all happens in the first fifteen minutes. The story goes from there, incorporating the ski-masked criminals who are cutting poor Walter’s fingers and beyond.

Fingers is like the Jackson Pollock of movies, as writer/director Juan Ortiz throws the kitchen sink onto a blank canvass to see what sticks. But unlike Pollock’s art, I doubt this will get shown at the MOMA. It oftentimes had me laughing in surprise but then had me checking my watch the next. It’s a weird little film that begins as a weird body horror insanity before turning into…something else? Cannibalism, casual racism, coprophagy, fingers carried in little sandwich baggies and the dude from The Greasy Strangler (Michael St. Michael) are on display in this weird little movie. It’s saying something that Jeremy Gardner’s finger-snipping criminal is the most empathetic character…and he gets more and more unhinged as the story hurtles towards its inevitable conclusion.

The narrative doesn’t focus on one character’s point of view. Instead, it adds a dash of crazy, racist white woman, a so-called Black Dr. Phil, a bunch of low-rent criminals and a man who wants fingers for some unknown reason and throws it in a blender to see what happens. I honestly don’t know what to think about this one. It left me perplexed and scratching my head. But it also had a few moments of laugh out loud absurdity. Oh and the score by Ryan Winford is an absolute killer.