SANTA FE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The universal becomes highly personal — and overwrought special effects take a welcome holiday — in Janet Grillo’s The Warm Season, a science fiction drama of human-extraterrestrial contact that impresses with humor and heart. Reviving a few character and plot elements from the likes of John Carpenter’s Starman and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film, made for under $1 million over a couple of dozen shooting days, comes into its own as a compelling genre entry that covers more themes of existential relevance than those two major-studio pictures combined.
A prologue and several flashbacks set in late-1960s New Mexico find a young girl named Clive confronted in the woods by Mann (Michael Esparza). At first, he appears to be a ranch hand but reveals he is from a dying planet. As a handful of FBI types move in, Mann gives her a glowing blue stone with the promise he will return for it.
“…takes a room at the motel seeking to reclaim the stone, which Clive has buried someplace she has forgotten.”
Jump forward 25 years, and the now-adult Clive (Carie Kawa) is getting heat from every direction. Her marriage to artist Mitch (Daniel Dorr) is failing. The increasing dementia of her mother, Carlene (Cynthia Mace), and Clive’s slipping efforts, on piggybacked lines of credit, to renovate her parents’ dilapidated desert motel into an artists’ retreat aren’t helping. Capping all of this is the reappearance of the completely unaged Mann, who, to the chagrin of a clueless Mitch, takes a room at the motel seeking to reclaim the stone, which Clive has buried someplace she has forgotten.
The Warm Season has a fairly perfunctory sci-fi setup and some hokily awkward exchanges between Clive and Mann, who initially speaks in newly learned pop culture catchphrases. But once passed all that, screenwriter Adam Seidel, an award-winning playwright based in New York, displays great dexterity with character development and comfortably expository, very funny dialogue. How the otherworldly stranger and another unexpected motel guest, a looks-like-he-got-lost-on-the-way-to-Roswell pothead named Sam (Gregory Jbara), impact Clive’s burdens and catalyze change in her and those closest to her make for an amusing and moving second act. They also lay the groundwork for cathartic twists in the third.
"…more about the human condition than the prospect of life beyond this glowing blue rock..."