Sundance 2019: Paradise Hills

Emma Roberts and Eiza Gonzalez appear in Paradise Hills by Alice Waddington, an official selection of the NEXT Program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Manolo Pavn.

There’s no doubt that Paradise Hills has a lot of ambition with a strong feminist story it wishes to tell but manages to miss the mark somewhere along the way.

The film starts with Uma (Emma Roberts) getting married to a mysterious man that we hardly know anything about.  Almost immediately as any action takes place, the film jumps straight to two months earlier.  This allows us to dive into the backstory of how we got here.  Once we find Uma waking up in a mysterious room, it takes some time before we understand what is going on.  Apparently, Paradise Hills is some sort of treatment facility run by Duchess (Milla Jovovich) in the Mediterranean Sea.  It almost feels like a place for conversion therapy treatment!

Families of all types send their daughters to this island because they feel like they’re in need of major improvement.  Just as Uma’s family is upset with her decisions, Chloe (Danielle McDonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Amarna (Eiza González) all have their reasons for being there.  Chloe wants to be thinner.  Yu’s family won’t allow her back home until she rights the ship.  Amarna and her band have a severe disagreement over her musical direction.

The facility as a whole is rather strict but that doesn’t stop Uma’s many attempts to escape the hell hole.  She is smart for wanting to leave and not just because her family wants here to be there.  Not able to sleep one night, Uma sees things happening that she shouldn’t be seeing.  It not only strengthens her attempts to escape but she wants her friends to go with her.  This is easier said than done but Uma isn’t unable to see what she’s seen.

This is a film that really manages to take us for quite the turn during the third act.  There’s a lot more in the third act than meets the eye.  This is really where the film manages to place a few genres in a blender.    Honestly, there’s more than a few moments that can lead someone to go WTF.  Meanwhile, the visual effects are astonishing to say the least.

Overall, writer-director Alice Waddington is making some pretty bold and ambitious choices in Paradise Hills but ultimately falls quite a bit short.  The filmmaker blends science fiction and the thriller genre with a strong feminist brand.  There’s nothing really wrong with going for a feminist message here.  I can see what Waddington was going for in her message.  It’s just the way in which this narrative gets delivered gets muddied a bit.

CAST:  Emma Roberts, Danielle MacDonald, Awkwafina, Jeremy Irvine, Arnaud Valois, with Eiza González and Milla Jovovich

Paradise Hills held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT section.  Grade 2/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.