Science fiction, for all its fantastical nature, tends to be very set in its ways. Most sci-fi movies are either set in the present day or sometime in the future. It’s the rare film that acknowledges the fact that science fiction can be set at any time or place…even the old west. The imagination of writer/director Carly Lyn makes use of the limitless possibilities of the sci-fi genre with her film A FOUNDLING.
From the start A FOUNDLING is not your everyday western. Virginia Wells (Cindy Chiu) is a young Chinese woman who has just found her long-lost sister Mattie (Nora Jesse). Mattie was given up by their mother shortly after birth and has been doing what she could to survive, working in a brothel in Arizona. Virginia, raised by missionaries in San Bernardino, is fairing better as a young bride with a promising future. However, when she learns of her sister’s existence and whereabouts she set out to find her. With her husband’s blessings she journeys to Arizona to find Mattie. Promising her sister a better life, the film opens as the pair travel across the desert back to Virginia’s home in California.
Along the way the two sisters learn about each other as Mattie also struggles to deal with the way her life is changing. After hearing a strange thunderous noise the night before, the pair finds strange objects scattered around the desert. They follow these odd bits and pieces, only to find the wreckage of a space ship. Not truly understanding what they are seeing, the pair explores the ship’s remains and hears a strange crying sound. They follow it and find a small humanoid but clearly alien creature. It appears wounded and helpless. Virginia, the more practical of the pair is not eager to get involved with the strange looking being. Mattie on the other hand, is immediately taken by the small injured creature and wants to help him. She convinces Virginia that she should use her knowledge of medicine to treat the being and they should take him with them.
The creature, which they call Yayu, seems to appreciate the help, but it is clearly a child and makes some poor decisions, including biting both Mattie’s hand and the back haunch of the sisters’ horse. The bites look bad, but strangely enough, do not even hurt. This is foreshadowing for the fact that the bites contain some kind of poison which slowly begins to drain the strength from Mattie, forcing her sister to make some very difficult choices as she struggles to get them back to San Bernardino.
A FOUNDLING is a unique film for a number of reasons. First of all is the choice of the principle characters. Rarely are young Chinese women shown as the focus of a western. The sisters Mattie and Virginia are also well developed and not stereotypical. In fact Mattie, despite having lead a hard life working in a brothel, seems the more naive and trusting of the pair. She’s the first to want to help the injured alien and is eager to interact with strangers they meet along their journey. Virginia, perhaps a little more worldly, is not quite cynical, but definitely more cautious and mature than her older sister.
A FOUNDLING also sets itself apart from other independent films with its blend of science fiction and traditional western genres. This is especially noteworthy as many independent filmmakers stay clear of both genres as they tend to be more expensive to make, requiring special effects, special period costuming and locations. Lyn’s film, however, embraces and goes beyond the typical elements of the genres by not depending on gun fights and excessive special effects, but upon character development and story. The acting is first class with excellent performances by both Jesse and Chiu, as well as a strong supporting cast. Ultimately, A FOUNDLING may draw viewers with its interesting premise of aliens in the old west, but it is the story and the characters that drive the film. In fact, the viewer may find themselves wondering if the film’s title refers to the alien Yayu that the sisters adopt, or if it is really talking about the relationship between Virginia and Mattie as one sister struggles to save the other. So take a break from the recycled Hollywood blockbuster mill and check out writer/director Carly Lyn’s film A FOUNDLING. It’s not a good western or a good science fiction film…it’s a good film that happens to be a sci-fi/western.