Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Jamie Dack
Writers: Jamie Dack, Audrey Findlay
Stars: Lily McInerny, Jonathan Tucker, Gretchen Mol
By Morgan Roberts
Lea (Lily McInerny) is a bored teenager existing over a banal summer, simply waiting for her life to start. Her mom, Sandra (Gretchen Mol) isn’t always the most attentive. So, one evening, Lea meets Tom (Jonathan Tucker), a man significantly older than she. She gets the attention she desperately needs. But this attention comes with a hefty price tag.
Jamie Dack’s feature directorial debut “Palm Trees and Power Lines” (2022) is a harrowing and haunting tale of grooming and abuse. This is not the first time we have seen this story played out. Most recently, Sean Bakker’s “Red Rocket” (2021) attempts to tackle this subject with humor but does so from the male perspective. Dack, in turn, flips the perspective (how are we just now approaching this subject from the female perspective?) to show the true horrors of human trafficking.
At the center of the film is an incredible performance by McInerny. She has molded this character into a headstrong and self-assured young woman. Yet, McInerny finds time to continually remind you that Lea is a child. She makes the decision to spend time with Tom, letting him flatter her. But when Tom takes her to his “place,” which is a hotel room, her naivety allows her to brush off the glaringly red flag.
In his performance as Tom, Tucker brings the alluring appeal of a man taking care and interest in our protagonist. There are moments you almost believe him too. Just almost. Because, as adults watching this film, you notice the gaslighting and grooming. It is extremely subtle. Until it isn’t. And Tucker nails that tonal shift from suitor to predator — though, admittedly, his character has always been the latter.
These two performances are grounded in Dack’s direction. The vision is clear; this is a not fun movie about a truly horrific part of society. But unlike the other film mentioned above, “Palm Trees and Power Lines” never feels exploitative. You see Lea is harrowing situations, but you don’t get the sense that McInerny was in danger or taken advantage of. There is no gratuitous nudity. In some really difficult scenes, we do not look at the situation from a voyeuristic gaze, but Dack chooses to frame just McInerny in the shot because, at the end of the day, it is her experience we are examining. Those decisions are what elevate Dack’s work from others attempting to highlight this real-life danger.
“Palm Trees and Power Lines” is an evocative film, not shying away from the true horrors of child predators or how quickly some men abuse girls, literal children. Its change in perspective makes it difficult to dismiss the horrors or blur the lines between right and wrong, firmly identifying the line of consent. It is a powerful film that will rattle you to your core.