Somewhere, someone demanded a story set in a drug-fueled Hunger Games type universe with plant people.
Now, I don’t know who asked for this oddly specific type of film, but thankfully Spanish-born Alice Waddington delivered on this concept with a level of flare and style rarely seen in films of this ilk. Exploring a spa built for the upper echelons of society with a sinister twist, Paradise Hills is a pastel-coloured fever dream that is worth a watch.
Set in a nebulous time, place and universe, Paradise Hills transports it’s audience to a small resort island where the best of society is sent when they don’t quite fit their parents or guardians’ demands. As the film starts we are introduced to Uma (Emma Roberts) a daughter in an important, but financially precarious family as she is setting up to marry Son (Arnaud Valois). As the opening scenes set the stage, the costumes and concepts at play are put on full display. From bombastic ball gowns to Elizabethan inspired suites and outfits, Paradise Hills wastes no time immersing the audience in its unique, opulent world.
After some expositional dialogue is divulged about Uma seeming like a different person, the film teleports us back two months to give us a look at how the events unfolded. Now, a rebellious and disoriented Uma finds herself in the titular Paradise Hills. This opulent resort works as a sort of prison/spa, trying to reform willful young girls into the expectations of society. Milla Jovovich as The Duchess, the venerable headmistress of the facility, gives Uma (and the audience intern) the standard exposition on what the place is supposed to be, and what all the people in play will be expected to endure over their time in the facility.
As Uma is escorted to her dorm, the rest of the cast is slowly unveiled, Chloe (Danielle Macdonald, Dumplin’), Yu (Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians) along with fellow resident and famous pop star Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez). Each of the young girls has their own “issues” their families or people in charge want to impose on them. From social anxiety to the freedom to express their own thoughts and ideas, Paradise Hills is built to crush any free thought out of these young women.
As The Duchess and her crew escort our cast from different appointments on the island, from makeovers, yoga, to odd brainwashing sessions involving a merry-go-round horse and holograms (don’t ask), Uma works to find an escape from the resort. But as the time passes on the island and more truth of what is really going on is revealed, they will soon find things are not as simple, or benign as everyone first thought.
Paradise Hills is busting at the seams with style, personality, and ideas. Even with that lengthy description of the plot, it is hard to explain just how much is at play with this movie. It often felt like no idea, no matter how ridiculous, would be off-limits from this bombastic script. And while the film looks stunning, it at times makes absolutely no sense. There are plot threads that are dropped, and many that have very odd, and unexplained payoffs. It feels as if there is a whole other universe ripe for exploration, with little rhyme or reason as to why anything in it fits together.
Now that being said, it is one of the most stunning films you will see in 2019. From the lavish outfits to the unique and often outlandish sets, it is no exaggeration to say it often feels more of a commercial for a new couture fashion line than an actual film. And with Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, and Iris Van Herpen involved, it is no wonder things look positively fantastical. From white leather corsets with belts for sleeves to Elizabethan-style ruffs, it is a feast for the eyes, even if what you will be seeing makes almost no sense.
Here lies the biggest problem for Paradise Hills: the fact is, no matter how pretty it is, the movie ultimately lost something in the story department. What you will see feels powerful — it has a strong message and the characters are fun an interesting. But the narrative, as it is, will leave you with far more questions than answers, and the universe gets more convoluted the more you dive into the movie. That all being said, Paradise Hills is a beautiful fever dream — one that if you let wash over you, will be a fun and visually exciting experience. Just don’t pull at any of the threads too hard or the full thing will come crashing down.