Palm Trees and Power Lines, Jamie Dack’s first film, addresses difficult themes effectively thanks to a powerhouse lead performance from Lily McInerny.
The strength of Jamie Dack’s debut film Palm Trees and Power Lines is its ability to tell a harrowing, horrifying story without utterly overwhelming the audience. A variety of factors contribute to the film’s ultimate success, including Dack’s direction and sense of pacing, as well as a flooring lead performance from newcomer Lily McInerny. The film is based on Dack’s own short film of the same name. The story tackles some incredibly mature themes, including maturity itself, grooming, sexual predation, and the horrible repercussions of trauma. Attempting to dissect such heavy themes is quite the task for a new filmmaker, but Dack fulfills her dark and sadly realistic vision.
Remember McInerny’s name. If her debut is any indication, she will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. She portrays the film’s lead character, 17-year-old Lea, with a sense of grace and complexity that few first timers can accomplish. She climbs the emotional ladder, channeling happiness, rage, confusion, hope, and trauma in a completely believable and sympathetic way. She will move you to tears. The film certainly contains other noteworthy performances, as well. Jonathan Tucker’s Tom, a 34-year-old man who strikes up a relationship with Lea, is convincingly appalling in his actions. This is in spite of the fact that his character acts charming and vulnerable through much of the run time.
Dack directs her actors here in a contained way. She also withholds some familiar techniques in order to fully immerse the audience in the story she is attempting to tell. The editing is not flashy, and the musical score is almost nonexistent, but this restraint allows the story and the uncomfortable premise to take center stage. Her direction is not manipulative; she simply lets the story unfold, and lets the emotions come naturally without trying to force them.
In addition to her direction, Dack also effectively paces her story. Much of the film’s heavier moments arrive in the back half, as the “relationship” develops slowly over the film’s first half. Dack’s real achievement here is using the audience’s knowledge of what will happen to her advantage, providing a sense of dreadful anticipation as Tom’s intentions become clearer, and the cracks in his “nice guy” act begin to show.
The film takes its inevitable dark turn in the last act, when Lea and Tom take a weekend away from their hometown. Two extended sequences in a hotel room reinforce the themes of vulnerability and trauma in a way that is extremely, sickeningly effective. Dack delicately handles these moments without slipping into unwatchable exploitation, but the scenes will also certainly be difficult for some viewers to stomach.
Palm Trees and Power Lines is tough to recommend fully. Its subject matter goes to a deep, dark place that will certainly alienate some audiences. But the presentation of relevant themes, along with McInerny’s stunning performance, make the film an important watch.