Palm Trees And Power Lines

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Palm Trees And Power Lines
"Tucker's performance ripples like a mirage, all charm on the surface but with an air of something much less cuddly" | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The terrain of child grooming has come increasingly to the fore in recent years, both in documentaries like Caught In The Net and fiction features including Jennifer Fox's The Tale - which saw a woman reconsidering what had happened to her as a youngster from an adult's perspective.

Now Jamie Dack, co-writing with Audrey Finlay, expands on her earlier short film of the same name to immerse us uncomfortably into the world of 17-year-old Lea (newcomer Lily McInerny making an impressive debut) as burgeoning teenage emotions and boredom make her vulnerable to predatory tactics. Vital to the film's success is the fact that Lea isn't stupid or even lonely in the conventional sense. When she first meets Tom (Jonathan Tucker) after he steps in to help her out of an awkward situation, she's well aware of how much older he is  - double her age, at 34 - and reluctant to take up his offer of a lift.

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But adolescence is a time of desire - of wanting to be older, away from home, of reassessing your friendships - and what Tom represents most of all, is something different and, potentially, all her own. Tucker's performance ripples like a mirage, all charm on the surface but with an air of something much less cuddly, the spaces that they occupy immediately sparking a certain claustrophobia. McInerny has a vulnerability that reminded me of Thomasin McKenzie's early performances and which is likely to see a lot more work come her way (cast them as sisters someone, I dare you).

We, of course, can see the dangers that Lea doesn't as Tom starts to fluff up her confidence at every turn, his very 'outsider' nature making him special in the face of the acres of wide-open sky and boredom her summer vacation has to offer.

Dack makes sure we can also empathise with her position, her relationship with her mum (Gretchen Mol) and friend group just strained enough to make time spent with Tom feel like a break. Of course, what begins as a tug on her heartstrings, soon becomes a much more controlling pull, leading to later scenes in the film which, though not exploitative, are far from an easy watch.

One could argue this is preaching to the converted in terms of an adult audience, although it acts as a reminder of the tell-tale signs grown-ups can miss when they're dealing with bored and recalcitrant teenage offspring.  This is chiefly the sort of film that would slot perfectly into festival programmes for older teenagers, not to mention schools, where its cautionary tale nature could hold real-life impact.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2022
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A bored 17-year-old falls for a man twice her age.

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If you like this, try:

Fish Tank
The Tale