Paradise East is the type of film that leaves you feeling dirty after it is all over. If this is anyone’s paradise, it’s more the realm of Hell hidden under a nice name. The characters throughout come and go through various stages of sleaze, with little, if any, redeeming qualities. Even the cleanest of the group eventually tarnishes his soul, and once that happens… well, damnation isn’t just a metaphysical possibility, it’s a murdered reality.
Paradise East focuses on a small town where everyone knows each other, or is related to each other. Cops seem to be nonexistent, and the film zooms in specifically on a dysfunctional family made up of a murderous conman (James Kissane), his two sons, one with some serious social issues and a predilection towards underage girls (Seth Abrams), the other involved with semi-pornographic filmmaking (John Borras), and the innocent nephew (Walker Hare), who may or may not be in possession of a small statue of the Virgin Mary that cries real tears. Meanwhile, there’s a priest (Bruce Barton) on the prowl, hearing confessions and then enacting swift, violent judgement on the sinners.
Again, this film oozes sleaze in almost every frame. If the people onscreen aren’t doing something altogether gross, they’re talking about or contemplating it. In this way, the murderous priest becomes the hero because at least he’s ridding the town of this seedy element. At the same time, when it’s the whole town he’s working on…
I’m not going to lie and tell you that I necessarily “got” this film. I think it is trying to say something, and it’s chock full of different tones and even some dark comedy, but for me, once I checked out of caring for any of the characters (even the supposed innocent), it was hard to try making any more sense of it. This may also be a reaction to the dearth of the film, which at 124 minutes just feels about 30 minutes too long with these characters, at least for me. There is a plotline, but the expanded pacing left me drifting in and out of it, when I would’ve liked something tighter to focus on.
For me, Paradise East was a representation of the idea that Hell and Heaven aren’t other realms separate from reality, but intertwined. In this way, the smalltown in Paradise East was Hell for me, and no doubt for all of the characters. The renegade priest making murderous judgement could be extrapolated to mean some sort of continued suffering for the sinners, or I could be reading too much in to it; the ending leaves me thinking I never knew what was going on. Again, I didn’t necessarily “get” the film, and my interpretations say more about my own personal ideas and beliefs than it probably does about the film. That said, I like films that make me think long after they are over, and while I may’ve needed a shower when the film was done, I also got something out of it on a more philosophical level.
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