High Fashion Is Hell In Paradise Hills

Published on February 6, 2019

It would be no surprise if Paradise Hills received a wide distribution if for no other reason than its costuming and set design. Not every Sundance Film is a sleeper hit style, cult-classic in the making like Little Miss Sunshine or Napoleon Dynamite. Not every Sundance film has to be, and Paradise Hills sort of lies in that sphere of Sundance—not bad, but not good.

Far From Paradise

The film stars Emma Roberts as Uma, a young, headstrong girl of a supposed upper class that’s been betrothed to a young, powerful man. We never get a complete background of the world in which Uma lives. But we do get a vague idea of what the world is like in this science fiction thriller. The film opens with Uma at a wedding reception to her betrothed, dressed in a dazzling wedding gown worthy of the final look at a McQueen couture runway show.

Before you know it, Uma has awoken in a bright room with tropical wallpaper on the walls and gravel on the floor. As it turns out, Uma has been admitted to some sort of dystopian rehab center for girls, run by a woman called Duchess (Milla Jovovich) on an island paradise in the Mediterranean. Sharing a dorm room with her is Chloe (Danielle MacDonald) and Yu (Awkwafina). Uma was sent to rid her anger issues, Chloe’s parents want her to become a pageant girl, and Yu’s family wants her to be less….punk rock?

Throughout the film the girls begin to get a greater sense that something is wrong with the apparent paradise they’ve been imprisoned in. When Uma and fellow patient Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez) hatch a plan to escape the island, they learn of the dark underbelly of the seemingly dream-like island.

Costumes Are Everything

It’s a fact that Emma Roberts looks good in couture, which is something that director Alice Waddington brings up when asked how Roberts got involved with the project. The looks in Paradise Hills alone are worth watching for any fashion fan. The stark white, virginal costumes are juxtaposed against a colorful floral backdrop. For this the film becomes metaphorical of the expectations for women in society.

The girls are forced to wear elizabethan, cage-like uniforms by day. Where stiff white leather and metal fixtures provide a physical performance of physically caging the patients into their clothing. By night, the girls are dressed in ethereal white tulle and chiffon nightgowns—complete with tights and ballerina slippers to finish off the look. The virginal costumes provide a sense of what is expected of women in this universe. Despite the fact that the film seems to take place in the distant future, the film makes it clear that women are treated in ways reminiscent of medieval times.

Despite its many plot holes and badly executed story, Paradise Hills is a charming and entertaining film that, at the very least, is stunning to look at. The film received mixed reviews at Sundance and hasn’t been acquired for distribution. But with a cast like this, it will pop up soon.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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