Dir-scr: Christopher Landon. US. 2010. 112mins


Touching on taboo themes like rape, incest, and kinky bedroom exploits, Burning Palms is a series of five Los Angeles-set short films that are only superficially provocative. Film opens January 14 on a limited release.

Landon has shown a talent for combining thrills with laughs in the past, and his directorial debut does have its clever moments.

Writer-director Christopher Landon balances between dark humour and outright horror in these shorts, but too often the thematic boldness doesn’t translate to anything illuminating or meaningful. This low-budget entry doesn’t have much star power beyond Zoe Saldana and will quickly disappear into ancillary markets soon after.

Consisting of five tales occurring in different areas of Los Angeles, Burning Palms introduces us to, among others, a woman (Rosamund Pike) who’s concerned that her fiancé (Dylan McDermott) is too intimate with his teen daughter (Emily Meade); a gay couple (Peter Macdissi and Anson Mount) who adopt a stoic African child (Tiara McKinney), and a sheltered woman (Saldana) who seeks out the man (Nick Stahl) who broke into her apartment and raped her.

Landon, who was a credited writer on Disturbia and Paranormal Activity 2, has shown a talent for combining thrills with laughs in the past, and his directorial debut does have its clever moments when the film’s stories push the boundaries of taste or normal behaviour to see how the characters will respond to their unusual circumstances.

But rather than developing his tales in intriguing ways, the filmmaker leans too heavily on his stories’ most shocking elements, leaving the audience with under-dramatised, tedious narratives that favour abrupt endings for satisfying ones.

The best of the five stories is the last, in which Saldana’s meek young woman forms an unlikely bond with her rapist. Most of the tension comes from the uncertainty regarding the woman’s true motives and from Saldana’s eerily childlike performance.

Even here, though, the payoff feels rushed, suggesting that Landon delighted in dreaming up his eyebrow-raising scenarios but struggled to figure out what he wanted to say once he concocted them.

Production companies: New Films International, Films In Motion

Domestic distribution: New Films Cinema, www.newfilmscinema.com

Producers: Jason Hewitt, Christopher Landon, Oren Segal

Executive producers: Naz Jafri, Vince Morella, Tyler Thompson

Cinematography: Seamus Tierney

Production designer: Linda Burton

Editor: Gregory Plotkin

Music: Matthew Margeson

Website: www.theburningpalms.com

Main cast: Adriana Barraza, Lake Bell, Jamie Chung, Shannen Doherty, Robert Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Peter Macdissi, Dylan McDermott, Anson Mount, Jon Polito, Zoe Saldana, Nick Stahl, Paz Vega