A feminist parable. A campy trip through an estrogen-fueled, psychedelic cotton-candy land. A teen coming-of-age story under the guise of a fantasy-tinged cautionary tale. A sociopolitical critique. Alice Waddington’s debut feature, Paradise Hills, manages to be all of those things. Bizarre and visually stunning, her film may not be perfect – but you’d be a fool to miss it. An utterly unique concoction such as this only comes every once in a while. Embrace its lunacy, and you’ll have a hell of a time.
Waddington doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to establishing the film’s themes. Within seconds, we find the heroine, Uma (Emma Roberts), proclaiming her eternal devotion to her groom – via a tongue-in-cheek pop ballad, no less! – in a magnificent, gargantuan ballroom. Wearing an extravagant dress and buckets of make-up, she’s all dolled-up for the douchebag husband-to-be. But how did Uma get to this point?
“Run by a Maleficent-like The Duchess… the island is a self-proclaimed ‘paradise,’ surrounded by labyrinthine gardens and the azure waters of an endless ocean.”
This isn’t exactly our world, you see. Neither is it entirely clear whether the film’s set in a pseudo-dystopian future; it’s more like a Black Mirror-like reflection of our society, a world split into Uppers and Lowers. Two months ago, Uma’s Upper family had no choice but to send her to the titular rehabilitation center, with the hopes of changing her mind about marrying a douchebag millionaire and hence avoiding a collapse in social status.
Run by a Maleficent-like The Duchess (Milla Jovovich), the island is a self-proclaimed “paradise,” surrounded by labyrinthine gardens and the azure waters of an endless ocean. Young women dressed in white uniforms do gymnastics and frolic out in the sunshine. The island is also quite impossible to escape from, as Uma soon finds out. According to The Duchess, though, there’s nothing to worry about – it’s just two months of “holistic and sustained healing,” and then Uma’s free to go.