I like weird. Weird is one of my favorite qualities in a movie because it means I'm seeing something that's taking risks and thinking outside the box. Paradise Hills is a very weird movie. Director Alice Waddington, in her feature debut, shows a strong sense of visual style. She creates a fantasy world that's like Alice in Wonderland meets Guillermo del Toro meets THX 1138. More than that, she infuses the picture with a sense of playfulness and fun without sacrificing the valid theme at the story's core.
Emma Roberts plays Uma, a young woman who wakes up at the title facility, a high-tech place where wealthy parents send their daughters to be reformed from anything they find undesirable, including weight issues and rebelliousness. She quickly forms friendships with fellow patients Chloe (Danielle McDonald), Yu (Awkwafina), and Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez). They go through strict regimens, including hair/makeup sessions and lessons in etiquette. Their food is measured out by caloric intake. One therapy technique requires Uma to be lifted into the air on a carousel horse, where she's shown specially-designed holograms. All of this is overseen by the enigmatic Duchess (Milla Jovovich), who we quickly surmise is not as benevolent as she presents herself.
Uma knows something is up, so she hatches a plan to escape. The problem is that Paradise Hills is located on a remote island, making a getaway tricky at best.
Every single shot in this movie is beautiful to look at, which goes a long way toward making its imaginary world come to life. Waddington uses a pink, white, and light blue color palette throughout, to great effect. Roses and thorns are frequently utilized, too. Paradise Hills creates a powerful ambiance via these elements. Because the setting is so detailed and so carefully crafted, it becomes easy to get wrapped up in what's happening there. The idea of a dark place being cloaked in such beauty makes an undeniable impact.
Paradise Hills contains a poignant theme about suppressing the individuality in women and expecting them to be what the outside world wants them to be, rather than celebrating their unique awesomeness. Uma and friends are all perfectly fine. It's only their families or loved ones who view them as flawed. In discovering the dirty secrets of Paradise Hills, they simultaneously discover that being true to themselves is far more important than trying to please others by changing. Roberts and her costars make this idea come alive.
A few story points could have been fleshed out in the screenplay – such as Uma's covert relationship with a young man – although to some degree that's just the product of the movie having such a compelling premise. So much could be done with it that you just want the plot to explore every last possible detail. Another 10-15 minutes of expansion would have tightened the story up.
Aside from that minor issue, Paradise Hills is a fun, thoughtful sci-fi flick with an eye-popping look, a brisk pace, and a terrific scenery-chewing performance from Milla Jovovich.
out of four
Paradise Hills is unrated, but contains brief strong language and mild violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.