Paradise Hills – Fantasia 2019 Review

Out of all the things in the world that could have reminded me of the new young adult dystopian sci-fi flick Paradise Hills; it wasn’t The Handmaid’s Tale, nor Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, or even the Oscar Nominated Turkish film Mustang for that matter. Out of anything that I could have associated with Alice Waddington’s debut feature, the one thing that specifically struck a chord in my memory was the Disney Channel original series Star Vs. The Forces of Evil.

Yes. I’m being serious. There’s a recurring gag in the series regarding the oppressive rule of magical realms against young woman, where rich kings and queens send their future heirs to St. Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses. Similar to Nefcy’s vision, Waddington perfectly encapsulates the trouble with abhorrent outdated societal norms against women, by utilizing the analogy of a camp (a therapy island in this case), as means for both literal and symbolic oppression. Of course there isn’t a talking pony head, nor a quirky clumsy young Mexican boy named Marco in Paradise Hills; yet a similar enchanting experience is to be had. 

Richly constructed from numerous fashion and architecture influences, with similarities reminiscing from famous locations such as the Golden Gate Park and the Alhambra; Waddington’s eye for the visually pleasing and narratively relevant is a reassured talent that has been previously established since her 2015 short film Disco Inferno. Shot in Catalunya and the Canary Islands, the sheer implied claustrophobia and suspense which comes from the film’s narrative, makes for a genuinely beguiling experience. From the gothic/medieval costumes worn by the cast, and the surrounding vibrant floral decor that consumes the world of Paradise Hills, there’s plenty of speculative talent to look forward too, from this up-and-coming director. 

It’s astounding what you can accomplish with a budget of under 10 Million. Even when Paradise Hills ultimately clashes against DeLeeuw’s at times clumsy dialogue, where the realism and world building of Waddington’s universe almost feels tattered by execution casualties; the disturbed fairy tale narrative gracefully makes up for some of the film’s clumsy mistakes in communication. Bringing an enlightening riveting commentary on the lower class forcing to replicate the actions of the rich; ended up becoming a product more socially relevant than one can imagine. 

Especially when looking back on the elements of reincorporation, such as the idea of milk (a product that is frequently associated with women and childbirth) being used as a weapon against our heroines, the perspective of celebrities being oppressed from the general public for their own real intentions of self-identity and sexuality, and trafficking used as means for common ground for both the higher and lower class; all add so much to this methodical beautiful world. Even when the occasional eyebrow is raised from the nonsensical villain and her motivations, and the weak central performance delivered by Emma Roberts (that should have honestly been given to her superior co-star Awkwafina, who managed to bring plenty of heart and angst to her role); it’s the small details that make Paradise Hills worth watching. 

Campy, yet surprisingly heartfelt and meaningful, Alice Waddington’s feature debut is an uproarious, twisty, feminist vacation trap that will be forever be engraved in the minds of teens and young adults everywhere; that may or may not aspire new artists to come out of the shadow and to express their own artistic individuality. Any film that can do this magical feat, should be labeled as a win in my book!

Paradise Hills screened at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. The film will hit select cinemas and VOD on November 1st.

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