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Paradise Hills

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Paradise Hills Movie Poster Image
Beautiful visuals, muddled logic in moody sci-fi drama.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 95 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There is no "better" version of you; you deserve to be happy just as you are. Friendship is valued, and women learn to trust their instincts and stand up for themselves. Some messages about class and wealth -- some characters are "Lowers" and some are "Uppers" (not every Upper has money, but they're afforded more consideration and respect in the movie's world), and it's said that the Lowers are treated very poorly. But viewers never see any Lowers and how they live, so the impact of these messages is limited.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Female characters have agency, fight hard to control their own lives but are opposed by larger forces, including family, social pressure, violent coercion. A character with a larger body type is exhorted to lose weight, but she says "I'm fine the way I am." Uma is basically forced to marry a man she hates, but resolution of her storyline is a bit more complicated than that. 

Violence

Pervasive sense of danger/unease. An element of sexual coercion, with Uma forced into what amounts to jail until she agrees to marry a man she hates; other students/inmates are held for various reasons including their weight, their emotional health. In movie's opening, Uma is told to "go upstairs" (presumably to have sex) and that a husband "shouldn't have to wait." She then lies on a bed, is praised for being obedient before a man climbs on top of her and is stabbed to death with a scalpel (blood is shown, but no wound or gore). In a fight, a man is stabbed, a girl is throttled. A plant attacks two characters; one is killed. Viewers see her face reacting as she's squeezed to death. It's said that one character's father took his own life; a limp arm on a bed is shown.

Sex

Both same- and opposite-sex kissing, including passionate kissing before a camera cuts away and characters presumably have sex. Spy cam footage later shows them entwined on a bed, embracing. A young woman is forced into marriage and told to "go upstairs" to have sex with her new husband (see "Violence" section). Longing looks/flirtation.

Language

Language is infrequent but includes "f--king," "ass," "s--t," "pr--k," "screwed." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters toast with champagne; no one acts drunk. A character who's presented as "cool" smokes cigarettes. Characters are unknowingly drugged and then sleep soundly, sometimes for extended periods.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Paradise Hills is a sci-fi/fantasy movie about an upscale reform school where young women are transformed into obedient automatons. The main character, Uma (Emma Roberts), is imprisoned because she won't marry a man she hates. After her stay at the school, she consents and is basically ordered to have sex with her husband (though it doesn't wind up well for him). Viewers see a man climbing on top of a woman and praising her for being so pliable before he's incapacitated. Characters are also stabbed and throttled; one is killed, with blood on clothes but no gory wounds. Others are attacked by plants; a character's agonized face is seen. It's also said that a character's father committed suicide. There's both same- and opposite-sex kissing; the camera cuts away after two characters kiss, implying that they had sex. Toasts are made with champagne, a "good" character smokes cigarettes, and characters are unknowingly given drugs to make them sleep. Language includes "f--king," "ass," "s--t," "pr--k," and "screwed." This movie focuses on young women who are given agency and unique characters to play, but the story's muddled logic ultimately detracts from its messages about feminism, autonomy, power, and class.

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What's the story?

After Uma (Emma Roberts) refuses to marry a wealthy industrialist, she's shipped off to the strange and exclusive girls' reform school PARADISE HILLS. Here, on a deserted cliff above the ocean, Uma and her classmates Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), Yu (Awkwafina), and Amarna (Eiza González) are kept in what amounts to a luxurious gilded cage under the charge of The Duchess (Milla Jovavich). The residents while away their time "doing yoga and feeling our feelings," as one puts it, until they're deemed transformed enough to leave. But just how are they being transformed, and just what will walk out through the doors at the end of their stay?

Is it any good?

This movie is so eye-poppingly gorgeous and unusual that it will take you a while to notice that it doesn't make a lot of logical sense, but it's sure diverting to watch. "Girls in captivity" is an old setup that's been explored in particularly seamy detail in many vintage B exploitation films. But no girls' prison has ever looked like this one: In a Versailles-ish mansion surrounded by an Alice in Wonderland-esque rose garden, the Paradise Hills inmates languidly do floor exercises or submit to makeovers, clad in all-white uniforms that look like Edwardian bondage gear. They sleep soundly in rows of beds swathed with pink netting -- so very soundly, in fact, that Uma and Amarna soon get suspicious and wonder just what's happening to them at night while they do. 

There's a hazy side plot about "Uppers" and "Lowers," the castes of the dystopian YA-like futuristic society in which these characters live -- as well as a few narrative twists that throw into doubt what viewers may have figured out by the film's final third. But the jumbled plot passes by pleasantly enough, not distracting from the movie's key pleasure: great young female actors in absolutely stunning costumes on a transcendently gorgeous set. It's not enough to turn this movie into a great one, but it's wild, weird fun while it lasts. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Paradise Hills portrays women. Do you think it reinforces stereotypes or undermines them? Who are the most powerful characters in the movie?

  • How do details like the characters' costumes and styling affect how you feel about them? Which characters in the movie can be seen as role models? How are The Duchess and Uma set apart from other characters visually? How are they characterized differently from each other? 

  • What impact does the movie's violence have? Would it be different if it was more realistic instead of dreamlike? Were you surprised by the violent methods Paradise Hills uses to transform students? 

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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