West Michigan-movie review

(l-r) Chloe Ray Warmoth and Riley Warmoth in West Michigan. (Freestyle Digital Media)

This film is publicized by Bunker 15 Films (www.bunker15films.com) . Bunker 15 helps connect indie films to entertainment journalists and critics in order to provide said films with press, something that can be hard to receive when you are a small film crew.

Directed by: Riley Warmoth

Written by: Riley Warmoth

Starring: Riley Warmoth, Chloe Ray Warmoth, Sydney Agudong, Justin Mane, Seth Lee

Synopsis (Bunker 15): Hannah is a seventeen-year-old girl who struggles to find her place in the world. Around the time that she gives up all hope of fitting in, her grandfather falls ill. She and her brother, Charlie, drive up the coast of West Michigan in order to visit him on his deathbed. However, their journey north takes a turn after their car breaks down in rural Michigan, and Hannah’s search for meaning grows more crucial than ever.

Additional info (Bunker 15): Director Riley Warmoth and his sister, actress Chloe Ray Warmoth (Fuller House, Trevor and the Virgin), after spending four years in Los Angeles, returned to Michigan to film a love letter to the Mitten State. Shot entirely within the state, and utilizing both Michigan and Los Angeles talent, he was able to tell the story of a young person’s search for meaning and to explore the complexities of sibling relationships. 

To be released by Freestyle Digital Media on Amazon and iTunes April 13. 

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Monique’s review: 

West Michigan teams up creative brother-sister duo Riley Warmoth and Chloe Ray Warmoth to tell a concise coming-of-age story about Hannah (Chloe Ray), a teen who feels she is facing angst and existentialism on her own. Her brother Charlie (Riley) doesn’t initially seem eager to engage her sister on a deeper level due to his agnostic feelings about life, the universe, and religion. While Charlie can be like a brick wall to Hannah, Hannah also doesn’t feel like Charlie (or anyone) will understand her problems, so she tends to clam up, especially when Charlie confronts her about why she attempts to die by suicide. 

The suicide attempt occurs during their botched road trip to see their dying grandfather for a final time. The trip provides time for Charlie and Hannah to find common ground, but not before Hannah storms off on an excursion of her own in the hopes of leaving her problems behind. While on her miniature walkabout, she realizes that running away from her issues doesn’t make them disappear. Facing them head-on is the only way to find a way out of the darkness. 

Hannah (Chloe Ray Warmoth) looks out at the lake in West Michigan (Freestyle Digital Media)
Hannah (Chloe Ray Warmoth) looks out at the lake in West Michigan (Freestyle Digital Media)

As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, Hannah’s journey resonated with me, especially the desire to give everything up and walk out of the door to wander the wilderness. I also resonate with her realization that she must reach out to start putting the pieces of her life back together. Viewers young and old will get something out of this film, but I think preteen and teen viewers will also identify with Hannah’s struggles. Her challenging journey helps her realize that the messiness, sadness, and happiness make up a full, meaningful life. Having messiness in your life doesn’t mean it’s a failure; it just means you’re human. 

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The Warmoths bounce off their existing sibling relationship to make Hannah and Charlie’s relationship realistic. It’s even better as we see the characters’ relationships deepen; I would assume that the characters’ growth also positively affected the Warmoths’ real relationship. I think Chloe Ray’s performance as Hannah, in particular, is nuanced and layered in its subtlety. Even though the film clocks in at an hour and 16 minutes, West Michigan features lived-in performances that stick in your mind after the film is over. 

Hannah (Chloe Ray) and Charlie (Riley) after their grandfather's funeral. (Freestyle Digital Media)
Hannah (Chloe Ray) and Charlie (Riley) after their grandfather’s funeral. (Freestyle Digital Media)

Since the film does deal with sensitive subject matter, if you feel in need of talking to someone, please contact the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers. The deaf and hard of hearing can use your preferred relay service or dial 711 before the main number for English speakers. You can also chat with the lifeline online.

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By Monique