Paradise Hills

Paradise Hills is a film by director Alice Waddington and premiered 26 January 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival. When I watched this film back in 2019 I absolutely loved it. It has amazing cinematography and interesting dialogue as well as themes that are relevant to our society. I looked up reviews and many people also said that they found the film confusing and because of that the film failed to deliver its message. Contrary to them I it when films are confusing as it pushes me to really think about what I saw because in a film everything is intentional. I admit Paradise Hills is confusing but its metaphors are obvious and easy to understand. Reading others people interpretations or thoughts on this film helped me better understand it and pointed out some metaphors and clever cinematography that I missed.

The Duchess (Milla Jovovich) and Uma (Emma Roberts) talking in the garden.


The plot description of Paradise Hills by Ads Robertson in The Verge goes like this:

After refusing to secure her family’s fortune by marrying a wealthy but boorish man, retro-future debutante Uma (Emma Roberts) wakes up in an island-bound reform school called Paradise Hills. Uma makes a failed bid for escape, but she soon realizes that Paradise Hills seems like more of a spa resort than a prison… except for the holographic carousel ride that plays video of Uma’s suitor. And the fact that she can’t seem to stay awake after dark. And and a few veiled threats from the Duchess (Milla Jovovich), Paradise Hills’ administrator. Uma’s new roommates aren’t worried: Southern belle Chloe (Danielle Macdonald) sees their residence as a vacation from her overbearing family, and taciturn musician Yu (Awkwafina) just wants to be left alone. But rebellious pop star Amarna (Eiza González) suspects there’s something sinister afoot, and she agrees to help Uma get out. Amarna is correct, of course, and the secrets of Paradise Hills are even weirder than the average viewer might expect.

Adi Robertson on Paradise Hills in The Verge

I will elaborate as it is important to know what the sinister idea behind Paradise is.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Uma’s escape is prevented by Amarna. Uma becomes friends with her roommates Yu and Chloe as well as Amarna. The latter tells Uma she has an escape plan after Uma’s boyfriend Markus comes to the island pretending to be a gardener. Amarna never gets to carry out her plan as she ‘graduates’ early. Instead she tells Uma that the milk they drink at dinner is drugged. When Uma has her therapy where she is shown news reports on her fathers suicide she loses it and is put in solitary confinement. After two weeks she wakes up and has a chat with the Duchess, the woman who runs the island. She tells Uma that she’ll be send home the next day. She decides to escape with Yu and Chloe. They discover a control room and relies that they have been under heavy surveillance. They meet the poor and lower-class women who have had extensive plastic and cosmetic surgery as well as training to replicate their voices and personalities. Uma discovers that Markus was part of the operation on Paradise. They meet the poor and lower-class women who have had extensive plastic and cosmetic surgery as well as training to replicate their voices and personalities. After Chloe and Uma continue their escape (Yu dies) they see the dead bodies of the Paradise girls that ‘graduated’.

If you want to know if Chloe and Uma escape I suggest watching Paradise Hills.

The scene in which they discover what is really happening on the island.

Control room scene

Connection to the digital

It is obvious that Paradise Hills is about class, gender roles and gender performance. This film is set in a society that reminds one of the Victorian Age.[1] It is a mix of new technology and old society. One could even say that while technology kept improving society regressed. I want to focus more on the technology that we see in Paradise Hills. I think that it can be linked to current discussions concerning privacy and surveillance as well as how (social) media represent women.

In this film women have to conform to what society deems as feminine or lady-like behaviour. If they do not follow those standards there is something wrong with them and it should be corrected. We also see this with how for example most Instagram models are skinny and fit the (European) beauty standard, celebrities promoting weight loss shakes etc. In this film the poor women have dozens of surgeries to look like the privileged young women and replicate their behaviour and then change it to the likes of the people who send the women there in the first place. To have a better life women should ‘kill’ their old selves that do not conform to society so that they will be accepted and liked. The film shows this with the metaphor that when the ‘patients’ ‘graduate’ they are killed and eaten by the Duchess. She stands for the people that help perpetrate these ideas and that they will eat the women up who do not conform. Something I noticed is that all the people who are doctors or staff on the island are men. This could be interpreted as that men are the ones forcing women/feminine-presenting people into these standards.

In the control room on Paradise we see advanced technology and surveillance equipment. Every move, reaction and conversation is recorded and studied all without the knowledge of the ‘patients’. All this data is in the hands of people with bad intentions and I wonder if this is what our future looks like. When technology advances and more personal data becomes available to people who know how to access it how will it be used against us?


[1] review of Paradise Hills by The Verge

website Sundance Film Festival

Rotten Tomatoes reviews on Paradise Hills