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Review: Disappearance at Clifton Hill

February 28, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Set in Clifton Hill, the tacky, tourist trap area of Niagara Falls that the film is named after, Disappearance at Clifton Hill follows a woman named Abby (Tuppence Middleton), who returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls after her mother dies to help facilitate the sale of their family motel, and becomes obsessed with solving a long-buried mystery.

As a child, Abby witnessed a “one-eyed” boy being beaten and stuffed into the trunk of a car, a memory that has stuck with her for over two decades. With others being reluctant to believe her, including her own sister Laure (Hannah Gross), Abby starts her own investigation, and ends up falling into a dark and twisted web, as she becomes convinced that she has stumbled into a vast conspiracy involving those who run the town.

Following up his haunting debut feature In Her Place, a slow burn dramatic thriller that premiered at TIFF in 2015 and played with a similar if more subdued sense of foreboding, Canadian director Albert Shin delivers a different sort of mystery in Disappearance at Clifton Hill. Shin’s sophomore effort, which had its world premiere at TIFF just last year under the shorter title Clifton Hill, plays as a mix of neo-noir, psychological drama, and conspiracy thriller.

The film is clearly inspired by the work of both David Lynch and David Cronenberg, with Cronenberg himself even having a small but memorable supporting role in the film as a conspiracy theorist podcast host. Because Abby is a compulsive liar and therefore an unreliable narrator, it’s hard to know exactly where the truth lies, which is one of the most interesting and intriguing aspects of Disappearance at Clifton Hill. This is also what makes me curious to watch the film again at some point.

Similar to how last year’s vastly underrated Under the Silver Lake presented the idea of a conspiratorial mystery at the heart of Los Angeles, Disappearance at Clifton Hill compellingly suggests sinister forces at play beneath the shimmering surface of this tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ontario. While I’m not sure on first viewing if the story quite all adds up, I really liked the eery, unsettling vibe of the film, and it’s never less than engaging to watch. The cinematography by Catherine Lutes is stylish and has an often noirish feel to it, and the film is complimented by an oddly fitting soundtrack of old country songs.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is now playing in limited release in theatres across Canada.

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