Some people would argue that endings are far more important than beginnings. After all, it’s the aftertaste that must make us crave the experience all over again. Paradise Hills is a sweet dose of science fiction and fantasy that quickly turns to ashes on the tongues of its audience. This film is one nightmare I am glad to have woken up from.
The Spanish 2019 science fiction fantasy thriller – and Alice Waddington’s directorial debut – follows Uma (Emma Roberts) as she wakes up on a remote, luxurious island. She gradually comes to learn that her distaste for Son (Arnauld Valois), a rich aristocrat intent on marrying her, was what had her sent there. Uma is not the only one whose behaviour was deemed less than desirable. The fancy costume-wearing girls around her, Yu (Awkwafina) and Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), reveal their own woes as they try to acclimatise to their prickly prison, managed by The Duchess (Milla Jovovich). Uma is forced to confront her past and claw her way to self-acceptance, aided on her journey by an alluring and flirtatious fellow detainee, Amarna (Eiza González). Her loyalty is tested when Markus (Jeremy Irvine), her love interest from the outside world, apparates mysteriously on the island.
The initial scenes, capturing the girls’ reactions to their pompous surroundings, are evocative of the 2013 rom-com Austenland, mimicking its awareness of the film’s theatricality. The graceful costumes and prickly rose bushes echo the dreamlike ambience of Tim Burton’s 2010 dark fantasy adventure Alice in Wonderland. However, the film fails to capture Burton’s exploration of otherworldliness, choosing to remain in the realm of teenage angst. The vibrant cinematography by Yosu Inchaustegui all but drowns in the murky story that tries so fervently to stay afloat.
Though sexuality is never the subject of contempt – on the contrary, its delicate exploration is exemplary – the plot seems like an unoriginal take on conversion therapy. Except, in this case, for misbehaving girls. The film’s saving grace is the chilling mystery surrounding the fate of the girls leaving the island. When this element takes a turn for the absurd, all hope dies. The calamity is made worse by the very end, when the film’s originality is diminished by its likeness to Michael Bay’s 2005 sci-fi action thriller The Island. Remakes are rarely the answer – especially when they are marketed as something fresh and unrelated. With its teenage dilemmas, shy insinuations of emotional torment, and none of the existentialism found in The Island, the film fails to reach any form of depth.