Mara Stevens is a doctor and case manager who works in a genetic engineering firm, in a world where anyone who wants a child can create the child they want. A workaholic, she leads an isolated, almost compulsive life.
But as the seventh birthday of her dead daughter Wendy approaches, she begins to ask herself: what would happen if her daughter hadn’t died? The question opens her up to a whole slew of questions, and Mara must finally face the grief she has avoided for so long.
Writer-director James A. Sims and screenwriter and co-producer Gabriella Nieves have created a remarkably resonant drama that possesses a lot of hallmarks of great science fiction. Cleanly precise camerawork and cinematography captures Mara’s world perfectly, and the special effects are well done, both evoking our current world — there are still iPhones in the future, for example — but taking it just a step beyond to make it futuristic.
But what makes the film so perceptive and affecting is its attention to human emotion and its powerful portrayal of stasis and grief. Dealing with devastating loss isn’t a linear process for most people — despite the idea of five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — many of us can stay stuck in one stage for too long, or go back and forth between them, never quite reaching acceptance.
Mara is a mother who has never allowed herself to confront the central defining loss of her life, and in the world she lives in, technology allows her access to some version of her daughter, however imperfect it is. The ramifications of this, however, are alternately unexpected, wrenching and very moving. Lead actor Meredith Patterson carries the film on her shoulders, and her performance as the mother is strong, nuanced and deeply affecting.
“What If Wendy” is, like many great sci-fi films, a thought exercise in how an emerging technology can possibly reshape the human condition in some way, whether it’s how we live or what we experience. This heartwrenching short gets deep into the most intimate frontiers of emotions, looking at how our growing knowledge and abilities in genetics could be applied — and affect us in ways we never anticipated.