Alice Waddington displays the core evils of a capitalistic society through her direction and cowriting of the mesmerizing world shown in Paradise Hills–everything has a price, even loyalty. “Uma” (Emma Roberts) grew up wealthy, so her family requires her to marry a rich man (whom Uma despises). After putting up a fight about it, Uma wakes up in a women’s facility, which claims to use therapy to fix misbehaving girls. (CPG 4/5)
Review by Carlotta Plys-Garzotto
Twists and turns are nonstop in Paradise Hills. Where Uma awakens seems to be idyllic. Beaches, gorgeous architecture, everyone is pretty with clear skin and dressed in beautiful, fancy outfits….however, “paradise” couldn’t be farther from the truth (predictably). Uma immediately decides she will run away the first chance she gets. The rehab facility, however, turns out to be on an island in the middle of the ocean with no hope of escape.
At the facility, the girls are constantly trying to avoid being brainwashed, drugged, and physically tortured. The rehab experience is individually tailored to each girl. Uma is shown creepy, overproduced videos of the man her family wants her to marry. The videos attempt to show him in a good light and brainwash her into liking him.
Uma meets a few girls she connects with and confides in, one of them apparently being a famous singer back from their real lives in the outside world (that somehow everyone except Uma recognized). The famous singer, “Amarna” (Eiza Gonzalez), and Uma quickly form a relationship deeper than friendship–despite Uma saying she had a guy she was truly in love with back home. When Uma’s lover from home, “Markus” (Jeremy Irvine), shows up at the facility with promises to save Uma and get her off the island, Uma is torn between the two.
In Paradise Hills, Waddington does a great job of constantly surprising the audience. People you think you can trust–you cant; people who seem evil, may just be on Uma’s side afterall. The deception and conspiracy of the facility goes so many layers deep, and just when you think you figured it all out–you haven’t.
The world set up in the film is all about money. There are the “uppers” and the “lowers”, and almost every character in the film turns out the have the motivations they do because of money or getting paid off to do something. How much would it take for you to betray someone you love? Abandon your loved ones and entire life? At least in Paradise Hills there is always a price.
The breathtaking sets and special effects are a great accompaniment to the twists and turns of the story. There are definitely moments of inconsistency within the film–for instance, Uma’s roommates who she befriends freak out that Uma talked to Amarna, and cannot believe she doesn’t know who Amarna is. Then in the next scene, Uma’s roommate is partnered up with Amarna for a strange yoga exercise in the cult classes they must attend and does not seem fazed.
The editing is well done; there are some flashbacks and flashforwards that add to the creepiness and suspense of the overall tone of the movie. The film is cheesy at times, where the performances just weren’t coming together in a natural way–it was a bit campy. I found something left to be desired in the acting at intense points in the film–maybe they were trying to not be overdramatic. Towards the end it also gets very feverdreamy, and that keeps going for a long time–I think that part could have been condensed a bit.
Overall, the film is a fun rollercoaster ride. Despite any shortcomings, the film was a standout in my mind as an interesting and visually appealing piece. Waddington drives home strong ideas through the movie in an enjoyable way.
© Carlotta Plys-Garzotto (October 31st, 2019)
Commentary by Review Coach Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
Paradise Hills is kind of like if Girl, Interrupted had a baby with both Alice in Wonderland and The Hunger Games. It is also very gay, which I appreciate. However, it’s gay in a problematic way, as it features the “bury your gays” trope. This is a spoiler for the movie, but I would rather let queer people know about this trope and risk spoiling them than be too cautious and let someone go into the movie unaware. To keep it vague, it’s not exactly the straight-up version of the “bury your gays” trope, but all the parts are still basically there.
As to the rest of the film, the production design makes it a feast for the eyes, and I wouldn’t use such a corny phrase lightly. This movie has everything: giant light-up jellyfish sculptures, a merry-go-round brainwashing machine, and characters serving #looks 24/7. I knew nothing about the movie going in, so when I saw the girl from Unfabulous singing a pop song in some Imperial Russia style ballroom while wearing some kind of birdcage on her head, I was intrigued to say the least. The opening scene’s kaleidoscopic musical number leads into a movie with visuals rivaled only by The Fifth Element in imagination and unabashed creativity.
Re: what was actually expressed by this movie, I got a vague anti-capitalist message and some unfocused feminism, but much of this film is aesthetics not ideas. We can definitely all agree that girls shouldn’t be forced into marriage to random older men and that it’s not great for there to be an oligarchy, I wasn’t clear on what exactly the film was trying to say otherwise. I got the sense that this film was meant for the crowd that got into feminism around the time when model-level-gorgeous actresses like Emma Roberts started making it fashionable.