Review: Spaghetti Junction at Manchester Film Festival

There’s a rich history of films centred around the ‘stranger visits town’ trope. Sometimes that trope is literal; a mainstay for many a Western. Sometimes, that stranger is coming from somewhat further afield, swapping out a small town for Earth itself.

Starman, Superman, E.T. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – the list is pretty much endless. I hope you forgive that my particular list is a little (ok, a lot) steeped in 70/80s film culture.

As an adult, having told myself for some time now that ‘I’m not really a fan of sci-fi’ or ‘fantasy’, I have realised that not only am I doing myself a disservice, but absolutely the genres too, pigeon-holing them to the extreme. Actually conflating them too.

Sat on the sofa scrolling through a subsciption service we’ll call Fletnix, I perhaps would have dismissed such a film as fantasy/sci-fi and so not one for me. What a silly fool. A good film-maker rarely follows a formula, and will always take the viewer on a journey layering genre upon genre, the narrative, no matter the ‘theme’, steeped in aspects that one will always find a relevance in if the mind is open.

And that is why film festivals are flipping fantastic. Such is the fight for our attention given the easy, instant and wide scope of entertainment at our finger tips, it’s no wonder that the more choice there is, the more we stick to what we tell ourselves we like. With events such as Manchester Film Festival, we have carefully curated programmes which aim to bring new talent, new stories and new challenges to our often long-held blinkered beliefs of what we will and what we won’t enjoy.

Sometimes it’s time to step away from the usual, and take a trip into the fantastical.

And so to Spaghetti Junction (US), the feature film debut of filmmaker Kirby McClure, and making its UK premiere as part of the Manchester Film Festival (https://honorarymancblog.com/2022/03/12/manchester-film-festival-2022/).

The film tells the story of 16 year old August (Cate Hughes) , adjusting to life after a car crash took her leg, killed her mother, and left herself, sister Shiny (Eleanore Miechkowski) and their father (Cameron McHarg) to navigate through their new normal.

And at this point I want to say kudos for the portrayal of a dad who has been left alone to raise his children, not going down what is often the lazy, two-dimensional route of a (circle as appropriate) strict/violent/lazy/neglectful/unloving/abusive father figure.

Pause for applause.

When one night August sees a flash in the sky. she begins having strange dreams where a glowing figure beckons her towards a cave. Upon awakening, she goes to investigate a cave near her house— and inside she finds a strange and injured boy, ‘The Traveller’ (Tyler Rainey), who claims to have supernatural origins (meanwhile, whose likeness is concurrently being reported in the local paper as a missing teen).

As older sister Shiny is shown forging her way through a rebellious teenage life, making plans with her stoner boyfriend (Jesse Gallegos) to leave their sleepy hometown outside Georgia, Atlanta, August unexpectedly becomes the one who embarks on a journey of her own, both physically and spiritually; helping to find a map back to the Traveller’s own world in the universe, whilst finding an inner peace in her own.

The cinematography provides a tale of two halves. There is a jarring yet pleasing juxtaposition of loud, noisy, angry scenes of the concrete maze that is Spaghetti Junction; a real life ‘crisscrossing where freeways interweave’ (think Mancunian Way, but more exotic), and the ethereal, dreamlike sequences of nature, universe, countryside and fauna against an atmospheric musical score.

The contrast between dark and light and long held shots of the night-sky are successful in providing something of an immersive experience, ramping up the tension and empathy as August struggles to work out what is real, what is not and what it all means for her.

The film left me with some questions of my own unanswered but perhaps that’s the point. You can sit back and be told what to think (if only for the duration of the film), or you can bring your own theories and imagination to the party. Only then will you allow yourself to be taken to another world through the magic of cinema.

I’ll leave you hanging there, but for more details including a trailer and when/where you can view future screenings of Spaghetti Junction, visit https://spaghettijunctionfilm.com/

For the full programme of films being screened and having been screened in this year’s Manchester Film Festival, visit https://www.maniff.com/

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Cast and crew

About the Director: Kirby McClure is a filmmaker living in Atlanta, Georgia. His experimental short film “SWEAT” premiered at TIFF in 2014. His music video work for artists like Skrillex, Britney Spears and Yeasayer have been nominated for the MTV VMA as well as the UK MVA. He was featured in Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and NY Mag’s “10 Directors to Watch”.

“Spaghetti Junction” is written & directed by Kirby McClure, executive produced by Georges Bermann (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Science of Sleep”), with an ominous and atmospheric score by HEALTH (“Max Payne,” “Grand Theft Auto”), and cinematography by Kristian Zuniga (Depeche Mode’s “Spirits In The Forest” and Sundance Film Festival premiere “Beast Beast”).

“Spaghetti Junction” stars Cate Hughes in her feature film debut, Tyler Rainey (“Mind, will and emotions,” “Flipped”), Cameron McHarg (“Pearl Harbor,” “Deer Season”), Jesse Gallegos (“Greyhound,” “The World Beyond”), Tiffany Larkin (“Lillian,” “Frost”), and Eleanore Miechkowski (“Arcana Six,” “More Than You Know”).

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