Paradise Hills, a new film made by the hands of writer-director Alice Waddington, follows Uma (Emma Roberts) as she navigates the “paradise” of a reformation island in the future. Waddington’s world is stunning, colorful, and beautiful to look at, though the story attached is pure confusion.
Uma has been sent to a correctional paradise, one managed by the Duchess, played by a sinister Milla Jovovich. Once there, she meets her roommates, Chloe (Danielle Macdonald) and Yu (Awkwafina), and then the three begin to take in their new home. It’s a home where everyone dresses in white, the food is portion controlled, and you must always drink your milk, which we soon learn is the way that the workers drug each of the girls.
The Duchess rules the island, 10 miles off the mainland, with an iron fist and the girls soon learn that they’re in for quite a wild ride. They have conversion-therapy type sessions, personalized to the reasons why their families, all rich and in the upper part of society, have sent them to be changed.
The classism within the film isn’t explored to its maximum potential, though Waddington is definitely making a statement regarding the immense benefits of high economic status. It’s a damning statement about the possibilities of technology, of reform, and of creating perfect human beings without all of the effort.
The middle of the film is forced and the conflict takes too long to crop up, even if all the performances are actually formidable. The issues really start to formulate at the film’s conclusion, though. When Uma decides to escape, she comes to some serious revelations. These revelations go from probable in future scenarios to downright absurd, pulling credibility from the characters and idyllic island that Waddington has spent over 90 minutes carefully creating.
Uma finds out that the girls are being pulled out of bed at night, after drinking the milk which acts as a sleeping agent, in order to be analyzed. On the final night of analysis, the girls are killed by the Duchess. The Duchess has some sort of superpower, though, one very similar to that of Batman's Poison Ivy. She can control plants, vines, flowers, and all greenery with her mind. There is no other mention of superhuman abilities outside of this last fact, and it seems completely unnecessary. It's absurdity for no apparent reason, and hard to overlook.
Uma also uncovers that the Duchess and other paradise employees were really cloning the girls, using poor people as their subjects. It's actually an interesting take on the priviledge and power of wealth, and Waddington succeeds in this aspect of her storytelling.
Paradise Hills is a film that is constantly swinging for the fences. Its costumes, themes, plotlines, and conclusion are all huge swings. Unfortunately, several of those swings turn into misses, and the biggest of those attempts occurs at the end of the film. Even though the final scene is uplifting, feministic, and overtly positive, it isn't enough to completely salvage the film.
Waddington's first feature is interesting and certainly beautiful. Sadly, that's all it is, as her commentary along with her twists and turns still need quite a bit of work.