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REVIEW: “Warm Blood” Beautifully Captures the Hero’s Journey of a Runaway Returning Home

Updated: Jul 5

A young runaway. A chemical conspiracy. A trip to find her father. What could go wrong?

A close-up shot of Red
Red finds herself returning to her hometown of Modesto in order to find her father. She was unsuccessful as she found a drug-ridden small town with a chemical infested river instead.

Rick Charnoski’s Warm Blood follows a woman named Red, who returns to her hometown of Modesto, California in an attempt to find her father. The documentary-style film, based on a teen’s journal entries, features Red’s journey through Modesto as well as a major conspiracy: an alleged chemical spill in the town’s river.  

Using a 16 millimeter camera, Charnoski’s film perfectly captures the grunge aesthetic of a small, drug-ridden town in the 1980s. The film features the chaotic yet eerie energy of Red’s hero’s journey throughout Modesto.

We begin the film with two men speaking to one another in Spanish, with one asking “who’s the white girl?” As they have a conversation, the camera pans to Red getting up and packing her stuff. One of the men asks where the cigarettes were and the other says they’re on the table. As Red left, she took the cigarettes and later stole the men’s car. 

As she heads into Modesto, she sees people walking around and sitting on the side of the road. Paired with the slowed techno beat, it feels like a zombie apocalypse. It plays up to the subplot of the chemical spill making the town’s residents sick.

The camera looks out of the window, watching the residents walking around. At one moment, it pans to continue watching three people cross the street as the car passes by. Throughout the film, the audience is privy to many moments of looking out the car window at the Modesto residents.

These moments of looking out of the window slowed down the film, both literally and thematically. They allow for the audience to take a breather from the plot, almost like an intermission.

The slow motion drive-by of these residents comes from Red riding in the car of a man named Tom. The audience is first introduced to him when he drives up at a perfect time to pick up Red — she was in a physical fight with a former friend.

Red’s twisted hero’s journey began with her stopping at a bonfire that featured a group of people high on who knows what. She reached this bonfire after she ran from the car she stole due to the police pulling her over. She serves as this still and calm figure in this chaotic moment. 

The chaotic moment comes to an abrupt end as the film cuts to the next morning, showing Red laying face down in the dirt with little of the bonfire still going. As Red dodges a tractor, she finds herself at the nearest restaurant where she asks for the bathroom.

There is where we witness my favorite shot of the film: we get a close up of Red’s dirty face. She then proceeds to wash her face in the sink, then we’re back to the close up on her face, now free from dirt.

It’s an interesting sequence of events, starting with Red running from the police up until that moment, that signifies the roller coaster of the entire film. The film gets dirty and grungy, then cleans itself up by taking a moment of calm with these looking-out-of-the-window scenic shots. 

The film also features Red’s journal entries that she wrote before she ran away. This adds to the emotional aspect of the film as she speaks about the therapy and trauma she endured.

In one moment, she speaks about a session she had where she aimed to tell the therapist what they wanted to hear. At the end of that entry, Red admits to being crazy. Though, it may be a sarcastic remark.

Ultimately, Charnoski beautifully captures the nuanced mind of a runaway. Even though the conspiracy was revealed to be a hoax, the film does an amazing job of capturing the hysteria surrounding it. 


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