DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL
(director/writer: Albert Shin; screenwriter: James Schultz; cinematographer: Catherine Lutes; editor: Cam McLauchlin; music: Alex Sowinski, Leland Whitty; cast: Tuppence Middleton (Abby), Hannah Gross (Laure), David Cronenberg (Walter), Andy McQueen (Singh), Noah Reid (Marcus), Dan Lett (Randy), Eric Johnson (Charles Lake), Marie-Josée Croze (Mrs. Moulin), Paulino Nunes (Mr. Moulin), Elizabeth Saunders (Bev Mole), Maxwell McCabe-Lokos (Gerry), Mikayla Radan (Young Abby); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Fraser Ash, Kevin Krikst; IFC Midnight; 2019-Canada)
“Somewhat intriguing misfire.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Albert Shin (“In Her Place”/”Point Traverse”) is the auteur of this somewhat intriguing misfire. It’s a Canadian neo-noir whodunit set in the seedy part of Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side. I think the last time I was thrilled to see Niagara Falls was when I saw Marilyn Monroe there in Henry Hathaway’s Niagara (1953). Shin and co-writer James Schultz eschew jump scares for psychological tension, but roll-out a needlessly over-complicated mystery story.
When her mother dies, the 32-year-old fragile Abby (Tuppence Middleton) returns for her funeral to her hometown of Niagara Falls, where she grew-up as a child on the tourist trap street called Clifton Hill. In her childhood, Abby witnessed an incident that still haunts her, of a one-eyed boy being kidnapped in the woods. Abby’s return visit gives her a chance to see if she can bring a resolution to that troubling incident.
Further details emerge when Abby was only seven years old, such as she was fishing with her family when she saw a teenage boy with a patch over one eye being chased by a Chevy Impala and forced by a woman into the car. Too frightened to mention this to her parents, she instead told this to her younger sister Laure (Hannah Gross), who thought she was fibbing.
Now 25 years after the haunting incident, Abby stays over in town to sell with Laure their family’s rundown Rainbow Inn, a no longer operating motel at Clifton Hill. The wannabe buyers of the motel are the family that controls most of the kitsch tourist attractions on their street, such as the hokey funhouse attraction.
The potential buyer is the family head, the slimy smooth-talker Charles “Charlie” Lake III (Eric Johnson), the heir to dad’s casino empire. Laure is eager to sell the motel to him, while Abby instead wants to reopen the shuttered place and use it as a base of operations to investigate the abduction.
While Abby rummages through her deceased mother’s photos and collection of VHS tapes, bad memories of that incident return but she’s reassured that the incident really happened and wasn’t imagined.
The local conspiracy theory advocate, Walter Bell (David Cronenberg, the great Canadian director), who does a podcast from a diner shaped like a UFO, suggests that if Abby wants answers to the mystery she should look into a husband-and-wife team of magicians, The Magnificent Moulins (Marie-Josée Croze and Paulino Nunes). It’s known through newspaper reports that their young son mysteriously disappeared around the same time as the supposed abduction; and, even if it’s true as reported that he committed suicide by jumping in the river, his body was never recovered. Another person of interest revealed by Abby’s investigation is the emotionally flighty woman named Bev Mole (Elizabeth Saunders). She is lured by Abby into coming to her motel and also bringing along her incapacitated husband (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), whom Bev is mysteriously holding prisoner.
Unfortunately the filmmaker, who gets so many things right about his pulp tale, misses badly by coming up with a drab and contrived resolution, one that kills off all the good things the film has going for it–from the eerie sounds of the instrumental group BadBadGoodGood to the overall good performances from the ensemble cast to the DP Catherine Lutes so acutely capturing the places seedy atmosphere. With so much going for it, I expected so much more to come from its well-conceived noir set-up.
REVIEWED ON 3/7/2020 GRADE: C+