Spaghetti Junction (2023) Review: Some films require a considerable amount of love and care in the process of its crafting in order to complement and deepen the delicate subject matters it tackles. When such a film blends various genres to create dream-like vignettes rooted in reality, it demands a director who is able to approach their own creation with earnest curiosity and nuance. Kirby McClure’s directorial full-length debut, Spaghetti Junction, is one such gem. The film not only has its heart in the right place but also weaves together a heartbreaking, bittersweet narrative that thoroughly cares about its characters and the world(s) they inhabit.
Spaghetti Junction plunges into deep waters with a montage that hints at the sudden disappearance of August (Cate Hughes), a 16-year-old girl who recently had to get her leg amputated after a car crash. August’s father, Dave (Cam McHarg), and sister, Shiney (Eleanore Miechkowksi), look understandably distressed, especially after Dave finds a sole white flower inside August’s bedroom, where she was last known to have been.
This is when we trace back to the roots of this intriguing journey: the film underlines the pain, and isolation August has to experience after the crash, especially while contending with the callous cruelty of her sister, who harbors some brand of misplaced resentment towards her.
This sentiment is reflected right off the bat when Shiney and her boyfriend Antonio (Jesse Gallegos) begrudgingly bring her along to a bowling alley, only to abandon her to make out with one another. Although Shiney’s emotions are explainable in certain contexts — she is a teenager who does not know better, and as horrible as it sounds, feels that her sister attracts more attention than her due to her disability — her behavior towards August gets progressively worse, to the point of vitriolic apathy.
The catalyst for the film’s events is a comet-like object that August sees in the sky, followed up by a trip to the woods, which beckons to her while being marked with the same white flowers that her father finds in the beginning.
I thoroughly appreciate the care that McClure puts into fleshing out the film’s lore-heavy sci-fi aspects, as there are no vague McGuffins used to keep the narrative afloat. There’s a reason why the film’s slow-burn nature takes its time to reveal greater truths, just like August gradually makes sense of her vivid visions that feature The Traveler (Tyler Rainey), a mysterious, enigmatic figure living in the makeshift cave in the woods.
Although she ignores these signs at first, the woods hold a primordial power over her, and August is moved to aid The Traveler with food, blankets, and warm clothes. The two converse, and August realizes that there’s something otherworldly about the man who treats her with the autonomy and respect she deserves, which paves the path for new love to blossom. With love comes the onus to save the world, and August has to take it upon herself to embark on a hero’s journey of sorts to fulfill her purpose.
Through expertly paced sequences, the film relays August’s quiet, introspective nature that heavily clashes with that of her sister’s, whose boyfriend makes several ableist remarks about her and attempts to do something downright heinous as the film’s climax builds. Although Dave is genuinely concerned about his daughter, his well-meaning remarks often come off as insensitive, which underlines August’s emotions wherein she feels extremely out of place in her own world.
These subtle and overt sensibilities are portrayed with great nuance, and Hughes delivers a breakout performance that drips with richness, endearment, depth, and pathos, carrying the weight of the narrative just like her character, who takes on the Sisyphean task to achieve the impossible. However, both August and Hughes succeed in a way that’s sublime, if I may say so.
The film’s soundscape, created by HEALTH, adds greatly to the moody, surreal parts of McClure’s vision, with Kristian Zuniga’s stunning cinematography bringing both reality and fantasy to life. Spaghetti Junction is about yearning, daring, and hoping to believe in something more than what the mundane has to offer and the accidental discovery of a vast cosmic force that defies comprehension but evokes a sense of home like no other.
McClure, however, does not allow the cosmic to overpower everyday reality. In fact, his grounded depiction of real-life problems, including economic crisis and substance abuse, is what elevates the film above standard genre fare.
Moreover, Spaghetti Junction roots radical empathy at the heart of its protagonist, whose acts of kindness towards The Traveler help open new portals to alien dimensions and, maybe, even save the world as we know it. The results are beautiful and heart-wrenching.
SPAGHETTI JUNCTION premiered at the Boston Underground Film Festival on March 23, 2023. Tickets can be bought HERE.