I have a challenge for you. Make a film. I want top casting with recognizable names in the lead roles. I want you to show me amazing vistas. I want incredible, lavish sets that seem to be taken out of a fairy tale. I also want fantastic, ludicrous costumes right out of a fashion designer’s concept portfolio. Keep it independent. Sounds good? Yeah… It’s really hard to believe it, but this movie manages to show you some incredible visual concepts with little to no CGI. You really have to see this one to believe it.
Paradise Hills is the product of Spanish director Alice Waddington and writers Brian DeLeeuw, Nacho Vigalondo and Alice Waddington herself. The movie takes place mostly in what appears to be a retreat where all women are been trained to act according to a female standard of delicate, child-like, fragile dolls. In this dystopian environment, feisty and rebellious Uma (Emma Roberts) finds herself out of her element. Defying the Headmistress, known only as the Duchess (Milla Jovovich), she yearns to get away as she makes friends with Chloe (Danielle McDonald) and Yu (Awkwafina). She also feels more than a connection with celebrity singer Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez).
I don’t often talk about production values, or more precisely the results. But dammit, this movie has managed to capture in film some amazing environments, some are the natural sights of Spain, some are some beautiful sets and a lot of them are a mixture of the above. Every set has this lush set of colours that just pop out of the screen. The wardrobe alone would make Tim Burton salivate. It’s a cage for human souls, but it’s also goddamn beautiful. The conceptual world created for this film just soars above everything I’ve seen in a fantasy movie.
The story is a dystopian concept of a patriarchal universe in which women don’t have any say in their future. The scary implications of how gender roles are enforced for women is not without commentary on our own society. The idea of regression to a society less inclusive is something of a possibility in a time where modern politics are brimming with extreme ideologies. This is just my own added commentary. The movie is not preachy, it just shows you a reality and lets you draw your own conclusion.
Now here’s a tidbit that I wasn’t sure to include. I’m hoping this is not the year in which I only ask stupid questions at the Q&A, but I dare asked a question in Spanish to director Alice Waddington that I know she gets a lot: Was there ever a version considered in Spanish? Her answer was that she was exposed to science-fiction and fantasy in English, and that’s the language that she wanted to created in. She did, however, employ an all Spanish crew and filmed in Spain. I had the chance to chat with her after the movie briefly and apologize for such a formulaic question, but I found that her initial answer suits me as well. As a latino, I also was exposed to science-fiction and fantasy in English and that’s why I write in that same language. My thanks to Alice Waddington for making me realize this. Plus, if I might add something of my own volition, you might as well hone your craft in the most common tongue the world over.
Strongly recommended for science fiction and fantasy fans looking for something new. The story contains more than a few subversions, but mostly it sticks to a concept that will be familiar for most audiences. Dystopian worlds are plenty nowadays. The originality comes along in the visual concepts. It’s a feast of colour, with minimal to non-existent CGI to spoil the fun. Some of the storytelling transitions are not completely smooth, but they don’t affect the plot. I’m a bit conflicted about the ending choice. It works but it could have either ended sooner or later than it does.
That will do for now.