Palm Trees and Power Lines (2023) Review – A deceptively simple yet disturbing look at systematic grooming and predatory behavior

Plam Trees and Power Lines Movie Review

It all takes place over the summer. 17-year-old Lea (Lily McInerny) is on a school break, and boredom has set into her life like some kind of parasite. Her friends are immature, her mother is either too involved or not involved in her business at all, and there’s not much for her to do except wait for something to wake her the hell up. Palm Trees and Power Lines, the disturbing first feature by Jamie Deck, allows us to slowly settle into this lethargic life before red flags start to appear, and despite their innate presence, we wait for everything to be alright for Lea; only to witness a story about growing up that completely numbs you to the very bone.

This life is charted from the first image of Lea quietly walking past Power Lines, listening to music, and humming the rhythm along. The key people in her life are introduced in the next few sequences. She has a fast friend Amber (Quinn Frankel), this super eager teenager who wants to be with the popular crowd. The two of them get high, sunbathe with each other, and talk about boys and their own sexual fantasies as Lea quietly zones out. Occasionally, she hooks up with Jared (Timothy Taratchila) – a schoolmate, but her disinterest is so palpable that you wish for her to just go back to watching online makeup tutorials that she enjoys. 

Back home, her mother, Sandra (Gretchen Mol), has had a slew of bad relationships, and she is so discontent with her loneliness that she often reverts back to these recurring toxic men. Lea, who, at this point, has become apathetic to her mother’s behavior, just wants some kind of semblance of something concrete in her own life. This is when Tom (Jonathan Tucker) happens. He eyes Lea at the local diner and saves her when her getting into a mess when her friends leave her to fend for herself. Initially, he keeps her distance, but slowly and gradually, he starts to build a complicated relationship with Lea where he instills a bond of trust. 

The audience is thus left to witness a relationship where Lea, who clearly has a lot of baggage – including some unresolved daddy issues, believes in the stance that Tom takes for her. He gives her the right amount of warmth, the right amount of attention, and, most importantly, the right amount of value to her introverted existence. At every single moment, director Jamie Deck allows us to make the assumption that the trusting relationship will help Lea finally feel content with her life. However, he doesn’t manipulate us into believing that everything will go well with her. 

This is why his film Palm Tree and Power Lines becomes a powerful, clear-eyed, and distinctively disturbing look at systematic grooming and predatory behavior. The way co-writer Audrey Findlay and Dack herself have scripted the film makes you quite aware of the seeping power dynamics that Tom is establishing while making Lea believe that she holds all the cards.

Much of the credit also goes to Lily McInerny’s exceptional performance as this girl who comes of age in a way we hardly see in films ever. The disturbing nature of the slightly overreaching climax does make you feel that somewhere down the line, there wasn’t enough material to fill the empty space, but cinematographer Chananun Chatrungroj makes sure that the gaze always remains honest and not exploitative, allowing the power of this excellent feature film feel absorbing. 

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Palm Trees and Power Lines (2023) Movie Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Palm Trees and Power Lines (2023) Movie Cast – Lily McInerny, Gretchen Mol, Jonathan Tucker
Where to watch Palm Trees and Power Lines
Shikhar Verma

Getting fat with the wife. Absolutely loves the all-consuming, indulgent world of cinema.