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SITGES 2019

Review: Paradise Hills

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- A soap bubble of sorts, Alice Waddington’s first work, presented in a world premiere at the recent Sundance Film Festival, shines momentarily before bursting into oblivion

Review: Paradise Hills
Emma Roberts, Danielle Macdonald and Awkwafina in Paradise Hills

Paradise Hills [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
is the only Spanish film to have participated in the most recent edition of the Sundance Film Festival. This first work by Alice Waddington (the artistic name of a Bilbao-born woman called Irene, who boasts a long career in the world of fashion and who already put her name to flashy short film Disco Inferno, starring Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and Ana Rujas) has now also screened in competition at the Sitges Festival, an event scheduled to close this Saturday 12 October. The day before, the film will be released in Spanish cinemas with the ambitious goal of bewitching the public, particularly female and younger audience members.

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Paradise Hills certainly has a lot of tricks up its sleeve to help reach its goal… But whether it succeeds in doing so is a whole other story. It’s an impeccably crafted film - owing to the full commitment of the various technical/artistic teams to producing a mind-blowing visual spectacle – and from the very first (whirlwind) scene, the audience expects the aesthetic wealth unfolding before their eyes to go on forever and – understandably - for this visual richness to be accompanied by a plot that hits the mark. The screenplay, written by the director alongside Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Nacho Vigalondo
film profile
]
) and Brian DeLeeuw, introduces us to Uma (played by New York’s Emma Roberts), a girl who’s interned in a facility of sorts where she’ll be properly trained to be a subservient wife, perfectly aligned with the musty canons of machismo.

This “educational” institution is a fascinating enclave, an island of light and colour (pink) where the detainees must dress in white and toe the line dictated by the strict and despotic principal (Ukrainian-born star Milla Jovovich). The protagonist soon makes friends with an Asian girl and an overweight white girl. Together, the three of them will try to make their escape – without any male assistance – from this iron-fisted institution.

Though not directly referenced, Paradise Hills seems to have taken inspiration from two jewels in the crown of the fantastic film genre: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), directed by Australia’s Peter Weir, and the Spanish work The House That Screamed (1969) by the recently deceased maestro of fantastic film, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Waddington’s film tries to capture the mysterious, dreamy, oneiric atmosphere of the first, while borrowing the unhealthy, prison-like feel and the dark, gothic nature of its tale from the second. Unfortunately, Paradise Hills doesn’t come close to either of these works.

This film, in fact, is lacking in nerve, in muscular tone and in energy in terms of its direction, and in boldness and originality in terms of script and acting performances. Ultimately, its brilliant artistic direction and costumes are the only distinguishing features in this highly manufactured product, designed to satisfy a demanding audience who might find themselves momentarily absorbed in the baroque splendour of this dystopic soap bubble, before it bursts, too full of pretention and consigned to oblivion in the viewer’s mind.

Paradise Hills is a Nostromo Pictures and Colina Paraiso AIE production, made with the support of RTVEAlfa Pictures are in charge of Spanish distribution, while North American firm Lions Gate International are entrusted with sales.

(Translated from Spanish)

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