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BFI London Film Festival 2022 Review - PALM TREES AND POWER LINES

BFI London Film Festival 2022 Review - PALM TREES AND POWER LINES
A 17-year-old girl is seduced by an older man with sinister intentions.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jamie Dack

Starring: Lily McInerny, Jonathan Tucker, Gretchen Mol, Quinn Frankel

Palm Trees and Power Lines poster

For her feature debut, director Jamie Dack has expanded her 2018 short Palm Trees and Power Lines. The title suggests natural beauty sullied by man, fitting for a tale of a young girl who finds herself tainted and commodified by the sinister ambitions of an older man.

17-year-old Lea (Lily McInerny) is bored senseless during the summer holidays, growing tired of hanging out with her immature friends, who have no interest in anything other than getting drunk and laid. She has a fractious relationship with her single mother Sandra (Gretchen Mol), whom she accuses of neglecting her in favour of a string of boyfriends.

Palm Trees and Power Lines review

One night Lea and her friends flee a diner without paying, but Lea is nabbed by a cook who slaps her across the face. Coming to her rescue is a thirtysomething man, Tom (Jonathan Tucker), who pulls the cook off her, allowing her to escape. As she walks home, Tom pulls up beside her in his truck and offers her a lift. Initially wary, Lea is won over by Tom's charm, plus she had been eyeing him across the diner.


Everything about Tom spells danger, but we get the sense that Lea knows this but is willing to take the risk, so dull has her life become. Plus, it might even piss off her mom, or at least make her take notice of her daughter. "Don’t murder me," Lea jokes before getting into Tom's truck.

Palm Trees and Power Lines review

Dack and co-writer Audrey Findlay spend a good deal of time allowing us to hang out with Lea before we get to this pivotal point, establishing why she might be attracted to this older man. When Tom notes her maturity, we've already seen how Lea stands out from her stunted friends, so we understand why such a comment would strike a chord with her. Unlike the boys her own age who expect sex at the drop of a hat, Tom doesn't display such desire, allowing Lea to move things along at her own pace. It's she who initiates their first sexual encounter.


Of course, Tom is only making Lea feel that she's the one in control. He knows exactly what to say and when to say it, and he has a plausible answer for every red flag Lea sees fluttering in his aura. For much of the film's first half we're unsure where this relationship is going, and for a while we might be fooled into thinking we're watching a romance, albeit one of a taboo nature. By the time Tom's true intentions begin to be revealed, we've almost been seduced ourselves.

It's this investment into fashioning a believable relationship between Tom and Lea that makes the second half pivot into thriller territory so effective. This scenario has been covered in dozens of made-for-TV movies, but Dack avoids the cheap moralising of such films, which makes Lea's fate all the more worrying.

Palm Trees and Power Lines review

In her feature debut, McInerny is quite the find, thoroughly convincing as a naïve 17-year-old despite being 22 at the time of filming. Had she not been so compelling, like the 27-year-olds who tend to play teens in these scenarios, the film's verisimilitude would have collapsed. It greatly helps that we haven't seen McInerny before; unburdened by any associations with previous roles, to us she simply is Lea.

While the movie certainly doesn't endorse Tom's behaviour, it observes it from a distance, which makes it all the more disturbing. This is no after-school special with a trite moral lesson for viewers to take away. Characters behave in ways that frustrate us, because that's how people really behave. We might scream at the screen for Lea to get herself out of certain situations, but it's never guaranteed that she'll listen. She's been let down by adults her whole life, so why would she listen? The movie ends with a final disturbing moment that will test how much you've bought into Lea's psyche by that point. Some critics have found it a step too far, but I certainly bought it.

Palm Trees and Power Lines
 played at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival.

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