Paradise is a Terrific Tropical Western

Patricia Allison as Ella Patchet in Paradise (2023).

Paradise is a familiar story told with a fresh coat of paint. It’s the kind of film that shows how important stylization and aesthetics are to making old ideas fresh. However, a well-paced pistol-packing plot told with panache makes for a quality experience all its own. This punk-rock tropical Western has all the trappings of a cult classic. If nothing else, Paradise is an interesting take on a genre that frees it from the confines of its more familiar setting.

Sex Education‘s Ella Patchet played by Patricia Allison, is a fiery shootist, quick on the draw and always itching to squeeze a trigger. Growing up in the sleepy backwater known as Paradise hasn’t always been easy. Life and loss have hardened Ella in ways that make her father, Sheriff Dan (Bashir Salahuddin of Top Gun: Maverick), a touch uneasy. After all, no good dad wants his daughter to be a gunfighter — unslinging that smoke wagon only leads to tragedy. When rumors circulate that an old villain has returned to town, the sheriff is tragically gunned down. Heartbroken, Ella is left to unravel the mystery of his murder and seek justice the only way she knows how, delivering bullets to desperados.

Myles Evans as Townes in Paradise (2023). Young African American man sitting at a chessboard waiting for the game to continue.
Myles Evans as Townes in Paradise (2023).

Paradise lives in a wonderfully anachronistic reality that borders on surreal. The trappings of Western films are minimal, yet prominent enough to steer the notion of the narrative. This is a Spaghetti revenge tale with the murky morality of revisionist Westerns sprinkled throughout. What’s best, though, is that Paradise simply presents its reality as an accepted fact from the get-go. There’s no time wasted explaining the world, and even audiences largely unfamiliar with the Western genre will follow along the second Ella steps out of a bar with a six-shooter strapped to her side.

The film does a marvelous job of showing details then having characters react to them. As such, personalities and events mostly unfold in a dynamic manner. This is especially engaging in instances such as Patricia Allison’s various reactions to different characters asking about a black eye she got at the beginning of the film. Each exchange says something about her relationship to that individual.

Towards the end a few exposition dumps do occur. However, they also do a great service since they act as revelatory storytelling, adding details which deepen characters. If nothing else, performers react to information which gives the audience insight into them as well as something entertaining to watch. For instance, Tia Carrere (Easter Sunday) is fabulous in a fierce role, and her monologue is a captivating tale that shows how unhinged her character is. In other words, Paradise still offers something interesting thanks to quality delivery even when spoon feeding narrative.

Tia Carrere as Lee Paige in Paradise (2023). Underworld crime boss Lee Paige sits at her desk sipping brandy while wearing a colorful eyepatch and floral dress.
Tia Carrere as Lee Paige in Paradise (2023).

Furthermore, the entire cast has excellent chemistry. The relationships are never in doubt. Deputy Chevy, played by TV veteran Margas, has a wonderfully casual, comical back and forth with Bashir Salahuddin’s Sheriff Dan. Patricia Allison is clearly close with Townes, charmingly portrayed by Myles Evans. These connections make for gut wrenching moments when Paradise takes dark turns.

Visually, the film is splendid throughout. Solid cinematography by Chris Hadland keeps the tropical setting colorful even at night, while adding a touch of a comic book vibe. Paradise looks like a vibrant, multihued world stained by patches of darkness. Meanwhile, director Max Isaacson does an impressive job of showing things which visually add to the story. An excellent example is the opening scene of Ella Patchet riding through town, it’s enough to understand the sleepy, small backwater burg. Everything is filmed focusing on the important details in a moment. Details such as costumer Megan Spatz’s splendid punkish outfits for Ella Patchet. There’re also a few smart cinematic tricks which give this shoot ‘em up a little poetry.

The attention to detail, however, does make for some nitpicking stumbles. They don’t entirely derail Paradise, but they may make some viewers pause. For instance, Ella primarily uses a cap and ball pistol throughout the picture, yet at one point it’s shown to have standard contemporary ammo. Personally, I think there’s room for an overthought argument about how the weapon, which resembles a Colt 1851 Navy Revolver, is meant to be symbolically linked to the early era of gunslingers since that type was common among the first pistoleros. However, that’s also a very pretentious justification. It’s just an odd production choice given that even her various guns each have their own distinct sound effect. It shows a depth of detail which makes individuals distinct, making Paradise a delight. Consequently, such a thing feels intentional, although it could simply have been that the weapon’s baroque engravings were too eye catching not to use it.

C.J. Hoff as Giles Whitney in Paradise (2023). Ginger-haired white man wearing a shirt with multicolored pot leaves on it, and tied to a tree with a firecracker up his nose.
C.J. Hoff as Giles Whitney in Paradise (2023).

That said, a grain of sand isn’t blinding, and most of the movie will easily pull attention away from such trivial aspects. Although, viewers watching in groups are forewarned in case one person simply can’t let it go. In any event, when shootouts do occur, they have a smooth, speedy fury that’s magnificent. Patricia Allison moves like mercury at times, and while she tends to come out on top, there’s always a sense that she’s an inch away from death. In Paradise, one false move could spell bloody doom. Add a sizzling soundtrack including sensational tunes like “Street Justice” by the Death Valley Girls, and “Do the Devil” by punk rockabillies the Amazing Crowns — there’s a charming quirkiness throughout.

Paradise is that special kind of odd, marvelously mixing old genre bits with fresh spices. The result is a peppery punk blend of pistol blazing action. However, a tight script by Tony Borden provides the kind of dialogue that makes characters clear without simply dumping details. Interactions reveal the roles which are adeptly portrayed by an excellent diverse cast. Meanwhile, smart camera work by the whole crew keeps the film visually compelling.

This may not be your granddaddy’s Western, but even old timers can appreciate Paradise. It’s a tale of revenge with hard hitting consequences. Paradise is something special that shouldn’t get lost in the content shuffle.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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