[This weekend, we are covering New York City’s First Time Fest. Check back for reviews of some competition films from these directors trying to prove they have a cinematic future. More information can be found here.]
The First Time Fest description of Junction, while factually accurate, misrepresents what the film really is. The descriptions reads, “Four meth addicts rob the house of a different kind of criminal.” When you read that, what do you think? Does it sound like four meth addicts, presumably looking for money to get more meth, happen upon either a gangster or some serial killer or something like that? It sure made me think that, and so I was looking forward to that.
That’s really not what happens, so you shouldn’t go into the film expecting that. What does happen, though, is still pretty cool.
Director: Tony Glazer
Release Date: TBD
Junction is a movie about pedophilia. Just over a year ago, I wrote about a Korean film called White Night, a great film that dealt with some similar issues, although in a different way. Reading that review now is somewhat awkward, because I danced around the issue of pedophilia in order to keep thing spoiler-free, and I won’t be doing the same thing here. But what I said about needing to earn a certain type of exploitation in a film is just as true now as it was then. For the most part, Junction earns the right to use it.
Four meth addicts (David, Donald, Kari, and Spot) are out of cash and looking for a way to score. Tai, the man they get their drugs from, says that it’s his mom’s birthday and she needs a television. They get him a television, and they get their hot. It’s a pretty simple deal, as far as all that goes, but obviously things get a little complicated when, in the house they have decided to rob, the addicts happen upon a stash of child pornography (in the same house where there are photos of a little girl). It hits Donald particularly hard, and when the father of the family shows up unexpectedly, Donald attacks him and ties him up. Before long, it’s a real hostage situation and the house is surrounded by police. Donald wants the father to be made an example of; the others just want to leave.
As with any thriller, things are not always what they seem, and all of the characters’ motivations (including those of the police officers trying to ) are questionable. As the pieces started to fall into place, I was pretty okay with the way things went. All of the addicts have clear characters and their dynamics are interesting one to watch. David acts as the mediator and leader, so decided because he is the one with the car; Donald is kind of slow but (obviously) principled and a decent guy at heart; Kari is… a woman (so I lied, I guess she’s not too well-defined, but she’s also not terrible or anything); and Spot is the wild-card who is only ever out for himself. More importantly, their performances are all very good, with Neal Bledsoe’s Donald being particularly effective.
The rest of the performance run the general range, but the weakest performances come from a very uncomfortable place: the children. This is uncomfortable because it diminishes the power of the whole “protect the child” narrative. Junction features not-explict-but-more-than-just-implied child rape, and the child actor involved was just not believable. I didn’t feel good watching it, and I didn’t laugh at the bad acting or anything, but I also wasn’t shaken the way I have been by other films (like the aforementioned White Night). Even outside of that context, though, I never really got the feeling that the family’s child, Mia, believed she was in any danger. If she doesn’t believe it, I can’t either. Her face would occasionally mirror the tension of the room, but for the most part she was really just kind of there. The mother was also kind of a non-entity, and the father (played by Anthony Rapp) spent the entire thing bruised and barely concious, but the story didn’t really hinge on their emotions. A lot of it hinged on Mia’s, and she usually wasn’t up to the task.
But even if she wasn’t particularly good, I was still invested in the story. I just didn’t care about her fate; instead I worried about the addicts. Not too much is made about the role of addiction in Junction, aside from it being the reason they broke into the house in the first place. Once things went sour, the meth really stopped being the point, and though the fact that the characters are jonesing pretty badly periodically rears its ugly head, it doesn’t have too much impact once they get into the house. I don’t expect it helped, but Donald’s actual motivations ran far deeper than his addiction, and he would probably have gone somewhere similar if he had just been a regular guy stealing people’s TVs. Eventually, meth does come up in the conversation, but it’s a broader point about their characters and not really anything to do with the drug itself. While I can appreciate not getting bogged down in the addiction aspect of it, it seems like a MacGuffin, which is strange.
I want to get back to this idea of earning the right to use certain plotlines. As I said, despite the performance issues involved, I generally felt like Junction fairly handled its material, but the ultimate reveal was a bit too much. It’s not that the reveal itself is problematic; it’s that there’s no reason it shouldn’t have come out earlier. There are lots of pretty clear hints (go with your gut and you’ll probably get it) that rob it of its significance, and it’s drawn out too long. I understand that it couldn’t have narratively been revealed earlier, but that’s a sign that the narrative needed to change. There were so many points early in the film where four simple words could have explained everything, and given the tone of the reveal, I don’t really understand why they weren’t said. It’s kind of silly, actually, and it really shouldn’t have been.
But despite those problems, there was a lot that I enjoyed about Junction. The more I think about, the more I realize that it was really just the meth addicts that I enjoyed, but considering they are about 75% of the movie (perhaps more), that is a pretty good enjoyment ratio all things considered. Without those four performances, things would have falled apart pretty quickly, but they kept up and kept it moving even when the rest of the cast didn’t necessarily pull their weight.
Not bad for a bunch of junkies.