Paradise Hills is one of the strangest movies I have seen in 2019, if not the strangest. Writer/director Alice Waddington, in her feature directorial debut, has created a unique science fiction film that hooks you from frame one. It’s a stunning debut and a film I couldn’t look away from.
Paradise Hills opens on a Victorian-style wedding with a twist. We meet Uma (Emma Roberts), our bride, who is wearing a white dress and a cage-like mask around her face and is singing to everyone in the room. Everyone, including her new husband, gaze at Uma in awe, astounded by her beauty and her voice.
We then cut to two months earlier where Uma finds herself in Paradise Hills, a facility on an isolated island in the middle of the ocean where high-class families send their daughters to become perfect versions of themselves. The facility is run by the mysterious Duchess (Milla Jovovich) where treatments include etiquette classes, vocal lessons, beauty treatments, gymnastics and restricted diets, all that will solve any “problems” with the girls within two months. Uma, who was sent there by her mother against her will, befriends a trio of other patience, Chloe (Danielle McDonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez), who help each other get through the days there. But as Uma explores around the island, she begins to realize that a dark secret lies beneath the surface and that getting off the island is her only option.
Waddington does a masterful job of building the world of Paradise Hills. There is no preface about this island to even give us the slightest hint as to what it is. We’re just dropped into it with Uma and we are taken on the journey with her. We discover the layout of the island and the daily activities that the girls do. Nothing on this island is normal, from the look to the happenings, but that benefits the movie. Because this is something we have never seen before, we don’t know what is going to happen next. We don’t know what is happening to our characters or why specific things are happening on the island. There is a constant mystery throughout the film and it had me guessing until the very finale of the film, which was twisted and satisfying all at once.
The island and the facility of Paradise Hills is something to behold. It reminded me of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland but rather than being a computer generated glob, it’s real sets that comes to life and become a character of their own. The set design is filled with interesting and layered buildings and rooms, coupled with the bright colors and wild imagery to make for a visually stunning film. It’s audacious for a first-time director to make a movie this bold looking, but Waddington has a true visual style that makes me excited for her future projects.
Emma Roberts has been quietly one of the most diverse actresses working today. She has done everything from romantic comedy, to indie drama, to horror film, and here, she gives one of the best performances to date. Roberts is in-charge of guiding the viewer through the movie. As I said above, when Uma learns something about Paradise Hills, we learn something about Paradise Hills and Roberts does an excellent job taking us on this twisted journey and conveying the themes of independence, being yourself, and not conforming to society. We also get a deliciously evil performance from Milla Jovovich, who is having an absolute ball as the island’s leader.
Paradise Hills is a weird, colorful, never boring debut from writer/director Alice Waddington. The third act gets a little shaky, especially towards the film’s big reveal, but this is a movie that continues to stay interesting even when it loses steam. Led by dynamite performances from Emma Roberts and Milla Jovovich, a bright, creative visual style, and a wild and crazy plot, Paradise Hills is a sci-fi film unlike any you’ve seen before.
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