Palm Trees and Power Lines is as well-made as it is terrifying. Jamie Dack (Horizon Diner) is in full control of her 2018 short and adapts it with an unassuming velocity that will keep one on the edge of their seat. The acting is universally great, but newcomer Lily Mclnerny is astounding and her sparring with veteran character actor Johnathan Tucker (The Virgin Suicides) brings the film to life. Palm Trees and Power Lines is quiet in terms of music, but every moment jumps off the screen. The script seems slow, but it’s actually moving at the speed of light. The juxtaposition of these aspects meld together with the opposing lead performances, and it makes for extraordinary interior conflict in every part of the story. In Palm Trees and Power Lines, everyone is a hypocrite and no one trusts anyone else. The beauty of the film lies in how each character grapples with that concept and whether they have any interest in changing.
Lea (Mclnerny) is fed up with her small-town life and can’t stand her friends. Her mom Sandra (Gretchen Mol) isn’t having the best dating luck, either. Lea goes back and forth from judging her mom to hating who she herself is having sex with. Worst of all, love feels so far out of reach Lea can barely muster the energy to believe in it. That is, until she gets caught dining and dashing and is saved by the handsome, albeit aggressive, Tom (Tucker). At first, their relationship is platonic, but Lea knows better than to tell anyone that she is seeing Tom. Once their secret is out, and they have nothing to hide, Lea runs away with Tom in pursuit of a different life. What she gets, however, is far from a fairy tale. What was once platonic is now sexual and what was once an adventure is now a job.
The script by Dack and Audrey Findlay (Catherine) is executed to a T. The movie has a slice-of-life essence until things get bad in the second act. The inappropriate sexual tension between a 17-year-old girl and a 34-year-old man writes itself. But Dack and Findlay don’t focus on the bad decisions that lead Mclnerny down a dark path, but rather on what is missing in her life that would make her turn to an adult man. Most scenes in Palm Trees and Power Lines consist of shots of Mclnerny just thinking about how terrible her current situation is. The confidence in the writing and her performance make every eye-roll into a short story.
Mclnerny delivers a subtle yet magnetic turn in Palm Trees and Power Lines. The young actress is so emotionally evocative in her silence and the script is so void of dialogue that when the two meet it is a perfect pairing. Mclnerny gives power to shyness in a fascinating way. The film’s subject matter is sure to make audiences cringe and, in moments of weakness, McInerny transports one to a horror movie that will have one covering their eyes in fear. The direction by Dack feels effortless, and both women are contributing equally to the mesmerizing tone of Palm Trees and Power Lines.
There is no score in Palm Trees and Power Lines. At its core, the film is about grooming young women and sitting with that concept in silence is a choice. There are very few moments where the audience feels any character is safe. Even Tucker, who is ostensibly the villain, emotes raw vulnerability. In less gut-wrenching moments the silence between mother and daughter is truly felt without music. The sound of bugs and old light fixtures are the only sounds present in Palm Trees and Power Lines. The film is certainly tough to watch at times, but the clarity of silence gives this already quiet movie room to breathe.
Palm Trees and Power Lines is eerie, provocative, and thought-provoking. Everything from the sound design to the lead performance brings a sense of inevitability that is more of a cautionary tale than it is preachy. The story is simple and that is what is so scary; it doesn’t feel like melodrama. Tucker and Mclnerny are perfect scene partners and their chemistry is electrifying in the most intense sense of the word. Dack has done wonders with her short and Mclnerny is a star in the making. Palm Trees And Power Lines will break you, put you back together, and then ask how if you’re okay in the creepiest voice imaginable.
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Palm Trees And Power Lines is in theaters and on demand March 3rd. The film is 110 minutes long and rated R for disturbing material, sexual violence, sexual content, drug/alcohol use, and language – all involving teens.