February 24, 2020 Disappearance at Clifton Hill (Movie Review)
The truth can be deceiving—and it is haunting one woman in Disappearance at Clifton Hill, which arrives to select theaters and On Demand as of Friday, February 28th, 2020, thanks to IFC Midnight.
Upon the death of their mother, Abby (Tuppence Middleton: The Imitation Game 2014, The Current War: Director’s Cut 2017) and her younger sister, Laure (Hannah Gross: Mindhunter series, Joker 2019), inherit an old motel in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Disinterested, Laure dismisses any ideas of renovating the property and urges her sister to sell it to real estate speculator Charlie Lake III (Eric Johnson: Smallville series, The Knick series), who owns much of the city.
The decision, however, is not easy for Abby, and being back in town has dredged up haunting memories from her past. As her thoughts swirl wildly around the Niagara Gorge, a chance meeting that happened when she was just seven-years-old becomes an obsession. Conspiracy theories begin to turn into a full-fledged murder mystery as each new face that she encounters, beginning with local historian and podcaster Walter Bell (David Cronenberg: The Fly 1986, Alias Grace mini-series), places a new piece into an ever-evolving jigsaw puzzle. It’s all leading straight toward infamous performers The Magnificent Moulins—portrayed by Marie-Josée Croze (Munich 2005, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series) and Paulino Nunes (Brooklyn 2015, Designated Survivor series)—and their family of beautiful but deadly tigers.
The further that Abby digs, the closer she gets to the truth—that is, if you can ever believe a pathological liar.
Originally titled simply Clifton Hill, Disappearance at Clifton Hill clocks in at 100 minutes, was directed by Albert Shin (Point Traverse 2009, In Her Place 2014), and written by Shin with James Schultz (Milk and Honey short 2014, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew TV movie 2017). The film also features the acting talents of Elizabeth Saunders (It 2017, Mary Kills People series), Andy McQueen (The Handmaid’s Tale series, Fahrenheit 451 2018), Noah Reid (Strange Days at Blake Holsey High series, Schitt’s Creek series), Dan Lett (X-Men: Apocalypse 2016, The Shape of Water 2017), Mikayla Radan (Boys vs. Girls 2019, October Faction series), Aaron Poole (The Void 2016, The Communist’s Daughter series), and more.
A creative blend of Crime Drama, Thriller and Mystery, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is likely to appease fans of 2016’s The Girl on the Train. Though these two mysteries are quite different, in both instances the main character is untrustworthy and yet, somehow, still likable. Taking a note from alcoholic Rachel Watson, Abby is a pathological liar who has spent much of her life roaming North America and spinning various cons to eke out her existence. Even her younger sister no longer believes much of what she has to say, to the point of there being a clear rift between the pair.
While The Girl on the Train spells out Rachel’s flaws loud and clear, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is more subtle and nuanced in its approach, to where viewers will often wonder if it’s Abby who is going mad or everyone else around her. That’s what makes the film effective: the more those around her point their fingers and call her crazy, the more we want to believe the evidence that Abby is amassing. Even pathological liars tell the truth sometimes, right?
You’ll have to delve into the film to find out how it all ends, but we can tell you that this is one cross-genre film that looks exceptionally sleek and is, therefore, enjoyable to watch. Thanks to the moody cinematography of Catherine Lutes (Firecrackers 2018, Anne with an E series), glimpses of the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, and an excellent cast, this is an offering that can sit easily beside the likes of the previously mentioned The Girl on the Train, 2014’s Gone Girl, 2006’s The Prestige, and their ilk, and appease viewers with its somber tale of a missing boy and the grown woman haunted by his memory.
As that woman, Middleton gives a phenomenal performance. Her ability to effectively deliver such a carefully nuanced role is the key to this entire film, one that leads audience members to want to trust Abby and not simply dismiss her as a wacko. Without Middleton’s talent, it’s highly likely that this entire mystery would cave in on itself. Though she is hardly alone in the talent department, as her supporting cast members are equally magnificent in their deliveries. Gross (Laure) is sufficiently stand-offish to drive home the point that Abby, well, she has not been the best big sister. Meanwhile, Johnson’s Charlie is initially charming, but then begins to show his true colors. Certainly not least, Cronenberg brilliantly balances quirkiness and sophistication to craft the perfect oddball local historian-cum-podcaster.
Solid in all aspects and with a story that steps outside the box, Disappearance at Clifton Hill crosses genres to present an elevated Mystery-Thriller. Much like the aforementioned films that it could be filed alongside, it is not for everyone. The film’s slow burn and lack of action is best-suited to those that appreciate subtly over flash, but that is hardly a flaw. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Disappearance at Clifton Hill 4 of 5 stars.