de facto film reviews 3 stars

Jamie Dack’s debut film, Palm Trees and Power Lines, is a stylistic feature with a great cast. The would-be coming of age drama descends into the manipulative dynamic of an older man and a young girl’s relationship when they link up for the summer. The older man, Tom (played by Jonathan Tucker), meets young Leah (played by Lily McInerny), at a restaurant and immediately saves her from an angry cook after an ill-timed dine and dash attempt. Tom brings down her defenses easily, and for the first half of the film, which features idyllic outdoor backdrops and that summer before senior year feeling that is nostalgically recognizable to almost anyone, their relationship is romantic.

The audience is almost convinced that Tom, who is twice her age, is actually a good guy. When suspicion around Tom’s intentions arise, Leah is whisked away on a romantic trip to the beach. When she gets there, she is swept off her feet by Tom, whose intentions are still unclear. What follows is young Leah drifting about Dack’s well-built world, trying to understand herself.

Palm Trees and Power Lines' Review: You Can't Look Away Courtesy Momentum Pictures 

Leah’s last summer before senior year becomes a cautionary tale with relation to entering into relationships with strangers. This older man angle is definitely an easy one to spot from a mile, but McInerny and Tucker have such exhaustive chemistry, that their relationship seems ironclad from the very beginning. This makes the eventual turns of the film, and Tucker’s performance that much more chilling. For her part, McInerny is exceptional in her role. Her naivety and desire for something more meaningful than another summer with her loser friends makes her a compelling character on screen.

Tucker is convincing at moments as well; his intentions are so shrouded in mystery when he first appears, and he never seems to change his demeanor at all, even when the ruse is revealed. Suffice to say, Leah ends up very confused as to why Tom has chosen to focus on her. She gets dragged along and learns about trusting people the hard way. The film’s nature is depressing. What first appears to be a stylish coming of age romance ends up being a scary tale about sex and power and manipulation.

Seventeen-year-old Lea (Lily McInerny) looks for an escape from her humdrum reality in "Palm Trees and Power Lines." Courtesy Momentum Pictures

The two lead performances are draped in energy from the chemistry between the two. McInerny will likely see her career advance based on this role, and Tucker has reminded viewers why he is cast in spots like this in the first place. Dack’s first film shows her skilled direction; the change from wistful summer romance to the frightening reality of the whole encounter, the switch is so seamless. She is deceptive in her narrative and leads the audience on well, making the payoff, as well as the end of the film all the more haunting.

The photography is powerful as well. The palm tree paradise that surrounds the characters in the story is moving and dreamy. Though it tackles difficult subject matter, its lead performances lend it a shoulder to stand on. Since it is Dack’s first film, it shows promise. Some might find the story a bit too appalling, but the complicated character study is one that will stay with you long after you’ve watched it. Owing to its sleek looks and indie vibes, Palm Trees and Powerlines offers an interesting and nuanced study on personality and power dynamics. Even though it is full of uncomfortable scenes, it is a film that resonates with a viewer, largely because of its unique direction.

Palm Trees and Power Lines is now playing in limited theaters and on VOD