There is a scene, some way into Fingers, where Fox (Michael St. Michaels) divides humanity into three essential categories – the stupid, the funny and the crazy – with only the last category having any chance of survival. This might as well be the manifesto of the latest film from writer/director Juan Ortiz (Jennifer Help Us, 2014) – and the fact that it is articulated by the star of Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler (2016) also hints at the film’s desired tone of unhingedness. All three qualities are on display in abundance here, as Ortiz shows how delusions can grow and feed off themselves, and human error can create a chaotic chain of Coen-esque clusterfuckery.
Amanda Flynn (Sabina Friedman-Seitz) is a ‘mental health app’ designer with an extreme phobia about perceived human imperfections that is slowly driving her apart from her husband (and work colleague) Peter (Alex Zuko). Walter (Stan Madray) is a meek programmer and wannabe carpenter who does not understand why two men in knitted masks – one talky (Jeremy Gardner), the other quiet (Sterling William) – keep visiting him, each time cutting off one of his digits. Dr Ryan J. Scotty (Michael Richardson) is a quack therapist desperate to sell copies of his self-help book Follow Me: I Know The Way and to get his own TV show. When these characters cross paths, they will have radical, if highly irrational, effects on one another’s lives, in intersecting narratives that not one of them fully understands. Ortiz allows his multiple storylines to unfold in such a way that the viewer is, at least at first, as bewildered as the characters over what is going on and why. This is initially somewhat alienating, but once you get inside the madness, and see the recurring metaphors tightly binding a screenplay that only appears desultory and undisciplined, everything comes together beautifully.
“Fear is a monster. And you have to be willing to destroy the monsters. If you’re willing, then you’ll get better.” These are the words of Amanda and Peter’s friend Derrick (Vincenzo Hinckley) as he recommends Dr Scotty’s services. Amanda is full of crippling, ugly fears, but as she embarks on a manic journey of staged encounters, personal interventions and violent recovery, all to help her confront and kill her monster, she will disruptively send everyone else’s narrative trajectory into a wild spin. Soon Amanda’s psychosis will become a collective, even contagious one, as she internalises Scotty’s advice in her own deranged way and finds peace and contentment in resolving problems that are not at all as she imagines them to be. Accordingly Fingers is a satire of both therapy culture, and of a pathologised America chasing its own tail on the quest for closure. The redemptive cure that it delivers is all at once stupid, funny and batshit bonkers.
© Anton Bitel