In her feature film directorial debut, “Paradise Hills,” Alice Waddington constructs a simultaneously ornate and seductive yet deeply unsettling futuristic world in which anachronisms in attitudes, dress, and social hierarchy act as a form of toxic nostalgia — and a means by which the upper classes and the patriarchy maintain control. Based on an original story by co-writer Sofía Cuenca, the film boasts an all-star cast, including “Scream Queens” and “American Horror Story” veteran Emma Roberts, actor, rapper, and writer Awkwafina, supermodel, designer, and actor Milla Jovovich, “Unbelievable,” “Dumplin,” and “Bird Box” star Danielle Macdonald, and Eiza González of “I Care a Lot.” Set in an intentionally vague future wherein people are referred to as “Uppers” and “Lowers,” cars finally fly, and the economic gap appears to resemble that of pre-to-early industrial age London, the core narrative of “Paradise Hills” has been likened to a feminist version of Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (via Pajiba). Its mood and landscape have been compared to “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” and its often been viewed alongside narratives such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Suspiria” (via RogerEbert).
On the surface, these comparisons make sense. The narrative occurs in a “therapeutic rehab” school-like setting (like “Suspiria”) that ostensibly brainwashes (like “A Clockwork Orange”) young women into becoming more compliant and “ladylike.” There’s a rigid gender and class hierarchy (like “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and the haunting and soothing, dream-like coastal geography does indeed resemble “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” However, by the end of Waddington’s impressionistically painted mash-up of various feminist and control vs. freedom allegories and narratives, “Paradise Hills” proves it has something more specific to say about how and why such an apocalyptic paradise might come to be. Moreover, its a statement the film makes no secret of building toward throughout.