PARADISE HILLS *** Spain 2019 Dir: Alice Waddington. 95 mins
A hauntingly beautiful fairy tale set in a near-futuristic world, PARADISE HILLS tells the story of Uma (Emma Roberts), sent to an idyllic school meant to reform young women and run by The
Duchess (Milla Jovovich). She meets a group of friends, including Yu (Akwafina), Chloe (Danielle MacDonald), and Amarna (Eiza González). As their therapy progresses, it starts to become clear that the island, and it’s treatments, are more sinister than they seem.
PARADISE HILLS celebrates what makes women unique, fully-realized human beings as much as it admonishes those who would try to control them—their personalities, their behaviour, or their sexuality. Uma is grieving a father she loved. Yu is dealing with mental illness and anxiety. Amarna is struggling with finding her voice and expressing her sexuality. Chloe is considered lesser-than because of her body type, even though she’s happy with the way she looks. And these are all considered flaws by the people who sent them there.
As the story unfolds and the suspense builds, the fantastical elements—the harnessed princess-esque dresses, the handsome knight in shining armour, the carousel ride—become tools of control in a world designed to be acceptably feminine. A concept even more frightening in the near-future setting the story takes place in, because it shows us a glimpse of a world where things didn’t change for women. In fact, they managed to get much worse.
This film is not without its flaws (the script could use a polish and the twist is predictable), but the stunning art direction, breathtaking costumes, and gender-political take on the modern fairy tale makes PARADILE HILLS one not to be missed.
Review by Julia Lynch