Once upon a time, I was a teenager, and, at the time, it felt like the world was ending. My family was going through trying times, and none of us handled it well. I remember walking down a road in the middle of the day, crying my eyes out after a tussle with my father, running away from home. Then, out of nowhere, in the midst of all of it, I found myself laughing. I had no idea what I would do or where I was walking to at that point, but here I was on a gorgeous day in the middle of May with my health and a positive outlook. It was then I learned how incredible the human brain is. How, even at our absolute lowest moments, we can recognize beauty or see the world with different eyes to overcome a situation we thought you’d never recover from. As I concluded Spaghetti Junction, the film stirred up a lot of feelings, specifically how we have the ability to transcend fear and see something wonderous in every odyssey.
Spaghetti Junction begins with a moment of intensity between Dave Greenfield (Cameron McHarg) and his daughter Shiny (Eleanore Miechkowski) after Dave rushes home on a child’s bicycle. The perceived rage in the scene is daunting as Dave tries to locate his youngest daughter as he frightens his eldest in this situation. The brief introduction to these characters would warrant any viewer to believe that August (Cate Hughes) has escaped a bad situation. Still, outside assumptions in life are often taken out of context, and the film begins with a snapshot of life for August and her family.
When we meet August, she and her sister are dancing in the park. August is trying her best, but as a recently amputated teenager utilizing a prosthetic leg and crutch for her movements, her dance moves aren’t yet up to par. There’s the sense that the two girls are close, but when Shiny’s boyfriend Antonio (Jesse Gallegos) arrives, there’s a slight dynamic shift that only grows wider throughout the film.
Recovering from a car crash that claimed their mother’s life, August is stuck in a place where happy moments are brief and overshadowed by reminders of her perceived fragility. She longs for anything but reality, for a break from how her father can’t always look at her and the anger he hasn’t yet dealt with. Her leg also serves as a memory of what else was lost that day. August would much rather isolate herself than feel like the third wheel to her sister and her boyfriend’s nonstop make-out sessions. The lingering nuance of dissatisfaction is present in all of the characters as Shiney and Antonio dream of running away from their dying Southern town together, and Dave tries to drown his malaise in whatever alcoholic beverage he can get his hands on.
The movie starts getting interesting after August witnesses a celestial event, and her dreams and reality begin to mix. Dreaming of a boy called The Traveler (Tyler Rainey), August is drawn to a cavernous, abandoned waterway she sees at the edge of the park that houses him. August begins seeing and experiencing things to which most wouldn’t begin to grant credence. The Traveler, hurt and destitute, asks for August’s help, and together, they go on a magical, mind-bending journey to return The Traveler home.
Beginning Spaghetti Junction, there’s an offer of familiarity to fantasy films from the past. I kept thinking of the escapist surrealism of Paperhouse, Last Action Hero, and Pan’s Labyrinth throughout the movie, mainly because in those films, the fantasy bleeds over into the characters’ less-than-idyllic reality. August’s path in this whole otherworldly endeavor is to overcome both her bereavement and her newfound handicap and find peace beyond loss.
Kirby McClure’s cacophony of family, fantasy, and fortitude is the first real surprise from the festival circuit this year. The script is enlivened by its ensemble’s powerhouse performances and unique character viewpoints, resulting in a conclusion built on interpretation. Audience members will debate drugs, the legitimacy of August’s version of reality, and her mental state. Still, the film comes together spectacularly with a little bit of faith in something beyond our understanding of the universe and its limitations. Spiritual allusions in Spaghetti Junction are adjusted to fit a science fiction element via a vampiric preacher (Butch Copeland) and fit into the thematic scheme as a pointed path for the lost soul.
Spaghetti Junction is a dark fantasy film filled with heart that I hope people take a chance on when it comes to a nearby theater during a festival or whenever it decides to head to VOD. The cast is fantastic, the story is solid, and the cinematography by Kristian Zuniga is extraordinary. Whatever your take on Spaghetti Junction, it’s bound to start a conversation after the credits roll and open your mind to possibilities beyond a limited worldview. As for me, I was touched by the film’s poignancy and the fierce relatability of the familial characteristics. The film isn’t perfect, and I honestly thought a few minutes could have been cut to hasten the pacing, but that’s a nitpick of a movie that works brilliantly as a fantasy film that could have succeeded as a stand-alone drama. If this is what McClure is capable of on a limited budget, he has a bright career in filmmaking ahead of him.
Spaghetti Junction played on March 23 as a part of the Boston Underground Film Festival. Individual screening tickets cost $15 per person per screening and can be purchased through the Brattle’s box office or Boston Underground Film Fest.