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(Jacob Akira Okada and Carylanna Taylor’s narrative feature debut ANYA is available now on VOD. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

We don’t see the titular character in Jacob Akira Okada and Carylanna Taylor’s narrative debut until the final moments of the film. ANYA is not actually about the little girl in question, but rather how she came to be, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Anya’s father, Marco, (Gil Perez-Abraham, TVs Pose) is part of a clandestine race hailing from an island in the Caribbean called Narval. He was actually born in Queens, New York and raised in a tight knit community who blended in with their Latinx neighbors so as to go unnoticed for generations. What follows is sci-fi verité, a genetic mystery, an ethical think-piece and a romantic drama all rolled into one enthralling film.

Libby (Ali Ahn, TVs Supernatural) meets Marco in Times Square the same day that his mother kicks him out of his community for refusing to adhere to tradition. Marco doesn’t tell Libby much about his past, but they are both lonely souls who are drawn to each other and their relationship progresses quickly. Marco’s family always believed in a curse, claiming that anyone who attempted to start a family with an outsider would be rendered infertile. But Libby doesn’t learn about this until after she and Marco have experienced several devastating miscarriages. Libby is a journalist with a scientific mind, and she believes Marco is an orphan, so her first instinct is to enlist her ex-boyfriend, a research scientist named Seymour (Motell Gyn Foster, Marriage Story), for answers. Seymour is a brilliant charmer who specializes in Neanderthal research – a subject that is coincidentally relevant to solving their fertility issues.

What at first seems like a run-of-the-mill genetic test to put their minds at ease becomes the opening of a Pandora’s Box of cultural secrets and anthropological misconceptions. Seymour suspects that the source of their conception trouble lies in the very fiber of Marco’s being. The good doctor is fairly confident that he can edit their genes to facilitate reproduction. But as Seymour meets more of Marco’s people, he questions the anthropological ethics of such a thing. Meanwhile, Libby struggles to understand the world from which her husband comes. From the outset, we know that eventually, Libby and Marco will bring Anya into the world. But the meat of the story is in the how, rather than the who.

ANYA isn’t for everyone. People looking for a feature-length Black Mirror might be disappointed. The moral questions raised are extremely nuanced and lack the flash of a science-based allegory. But the scientific community will enjoy numerous labs scenes wherein Seymour discusses his findings with colleagues and attempts to solicit advice without making them complicit in the grey ethical waters in which he treads. Okada and Taylor were very concerned with making the science of their story as believable as possible, going so far as to shoot in a real lab at Carnegie Mellon University and bring in consulting research scientists as well as an anthropologist to create a functional language for the Narval people.

If you watch and enjoy this film, I urge you to visit their website and read all about their pre-production process. The fictional Narval history is fascinating and comprehensive. It would have made the film all the richer to include this hearty backstory.

Along the same lines, I would have liked to have learned more about Libby’s background and her relationship to her Korean heritage. How will this blend with Marco’s Narval past to make a family for Anya? Ahn imbues Libby with such strength and charisma. She’s a well-traveled journalist who must have some riveting stories, but once she starts trying to conceive, she never again mentions her career. At 78 minutes, there would have been room to add a couple of scenes that further fleshed out these compelling characters.

Overall, ANYA is an excellent first effort into narrative storytelling for Okada and Taylor. It brings up several largely unexplored themes in Sci-Fi such as how people with scientific beliefs find hope in tragedy and finding the line between discovery and invasion of privacy. I am excited for whatever thought experiment inspires the next film for this pioneering writing/directing team.

Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?

– Jessica Baxter (@tehBaxter)

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