I don't know what it is about this film season and reputable actors doing mediocre (and worse) horror movies (see my recent reviews of "Satanic Panic" and "Mary"), but it's happened again.
Originally attracted by the great young female ensemble cast (Danielle Macdonald, Awkwafina, Eiza González) headlined by Emma Roberts and Milla Jovovich, I decided to see "Paradise Hills" hoping for something along the lines of the breakout performance of Samara Weaving in "Ready or Not." That did not happen.
Roberts is Uma, a young woman who wakes up in a surreal retreat to reform rebellious women. Girls at “Paradise Hills” are put there against their will because of their eating habits, sexual habits or just their inability to conform to whatever their parents want from them. It’s “Stepford Wives” crossed with “Girl, Interrupted,” with yoga, nutritionists and talk therapy during the day, but perhaps something more sinister taking place while they sleep. Once all that is revealed, girls who were just mildly rebellious when they arrived, but more or less happy to “do their time,” band together to escape and ensure at least one of them can be free.
The overall aesthetic is very futuristic and stylized, a la the Capitol in the “Hunger Games,” with lots of cartoony, idyllic sets and costumes, right down to the “Alice in Wonderland” style white bondage outfits the girls wear. Weird songs, sci-fi inspired masks and rituals, doppelgangers and brainwashing are fairly contrived plot devices used without much effectiveness, but luckily Jovovich steals every scene she’s in, well-cast as their venomous den mother. Unfortunately, the incredible potential in the rest of the cast is mismanaged by the film’s young female director, born in 1990, so perhaps millennials will relate better to the clumsy metaphors in “Paradise Hills” about how society oppresses adolescents.