Paradise Hills (2019)
Director: Alice Waddington
Cast: Emma Roberts, Eiza Gonzalez, Danielle Macdonald, Awkwafina, Milla Jovovich, Jeremy Irvine
Paradise Hills is a 2019 American-Spanish science fiction fantasy film about girls put in a mysterious boarding school located on an island to be reformed into the women that others surrounding them want them to be.
Set in a dystopian future with flying cars and higher and lower society mentality, Paradise Hills is deeply grounded in its fantasy roots. The reform island that Uma (Emma Roberts) ends up is one that is a culmination of fairy tales. Apart from the room where she wakes up which is dark and fake, her first walk through the grounds is one that is full of pastel colors and resembles an Alice in Wonderland parallel, especially as the darker themes and there is a deeper knowledge of surrounding and different areas. Every new territory she discovers is both fantastical and mysterious. Filmed in Spain and Canary Islands, the location itself is captivating as a backdrop.
As she forms her sisterhood bonds with Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez), Chloe (Danielle Macdonald) and Yu (Awkwafina), Uma’s two week stay starts to settle in easier, even if she is still resistant to be changed into the girl that is desired by others. While Uma is a main character here and she has done similar roles like this in other indie films before, this one feels very complete. It also has to do with the actresses around her, Eiza Gonazalez, Danielle Macdonald and Awkwafina all portray different types of girls who live around people with different expectations and a varying level of accepting the situation that they are in despite the fact they can be seen as the rebels.
When faced with a passive-aggressive “headmistress”, The Duchess (Milla Jovovich), the conflicts between her and the four girls create tension and friction. Milla Jovovich has played a few roles of strong women and while a lot of her movies, such as Resident Evil has its cult following, The Duchess is one that shows off a lot of depth in the character. She commands each scene as The Duchess. Her costumes and her character design as a whole portray a powerful woman while her dialogue gives her a lot of manipulative and coersive nature, emphasizing her place. Her character is mysterious and cryptic at times but it all adds layers.
Adapted from the screen story by the director Alice Waddington herself and the script co-written by Nacho Vigalondo, who also wrote Colossal, Paradise Hills is one that executes the story it tells very well. It has a surface layer that is enjoyable to watch, especially in its visuals: costume, camera angles and the ambiance. It never rushes to reveal too much too quickly and only hints and builds up its tension both as the characters discover more mysteries and search for their answers and the urgency to escape their uneasy situation. At the same time, it gives enough detail to keep the final act a lot of surprises, truly succeeding at making this an impressive thriller especially in the hands of a debut director.