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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 09.29.19] Spain scifi fantasy

When it comes to “women’s films,” there aren’t a lot of options offered up by Hollywood and certainly not a lot that fall into the wide ranging category of “genre” so when a film comes along that fits so snuggly into this little niche, I can’t help but get excited at the prospect and in the case of Paradise Hills, the film certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Directed by Spanish writer, director and costume designer Alice Waddington, Paradise Hills stars Emma Roberts as Uma, a young woman who wakes up in an unfamiliar room with no memory of how she arrived there. The explanation that follows is grim: her mother, a society woman with money troubles, is attempting to marry her daughter into another upper class family in an effort to save herself and the family name but Uma wants nothing to do with this plan. In an effort to get her daughter ready for the marriage, she ships Uma off to a remote finishing school to train the rebelliousness out of her.

It’s here that Uma meets her new friends and fellow captives: Chloe (Danielle Macdonald, Yu (Akwafina) and the pop star Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez). The group forms an unlikely alliance and a plan to break out which, in the process, also leads them to uncover the truth of Paradise Hills.

Waddington has a very unique vision that permeates through all of Paradise Hills. The movie has a unique visual style that evokes fantasy and fairy tales and which lends itself well to the story being told and it also adds an interesting visual queue to one of the film’s central themes; the idea that these women don’t fit into the “acceptable” ideal of a woman in this world and that they must be forced to fit in.

While most of the film walks a line between reality and fantasy, it’s not too difficult to imagine that a place like Paradise Hills exists somewhere, the movie takes a turn into the truly fantastical in the final act and stumbles a little in the process. The final showdown between Uma and the The Duchess (Milla Jovovich) doesn’t work, delving into a fantastical element that is never explained and makes little sense in terms of the rest of the story.

Despite a few scenes that don’t really work, Paradise Hills never once loses sight of the message it’s trying to impart: that privilege and expectation shouldn’t be the guides for one’s life and that we should never give up on our dreams.

Paradise Hills is playing VIFF on Oct. 1 and 5. More details at the festival website.

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