★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Disappearance at Clifton Hill is a horror-adjacent mystery thriller that should please viewers who have a taste for off-center stories that look superb and are told and acted well.
Directed by Albert Shin
Canadian thriller Disappearance at Clifton Hill is an intriguing offering with horror overtones. It is a slow burner not because nothing happens early on — plenty does — but because director Albert Shin and his screenplay cowriter James Schultz unfold the many mysteries of their story at a pace that allows viewers to let the details sink in and roll around in their heads, setting up tantalizing possibilities before giving us more to chew on and sending us down different paths of consideration.
Abby (Tuppence Middleton of The Imitation Game and the Black Mirror TV series) returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario after her mother dies and she and her younger sister Laure (Hannah Gross of the 2019 Joker film and Fat Tuesday) inherit their mother’s motel. Laure shows no sentimental value regarding the motel and urges Abby to co-sign so they can sell it to real estate mogul Charlie Lake III (Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed), whose family has owned a great deal of the city for three generations. Returning to Niagara Falls dredges up old memories for Abby, especially about the time she witnessed a kidnapping when she was 7 years old. She becomes obsessed with the incident and begins playing detective. The problem is, Abby is also known to be a pathological liar, so it is difficult for those close to her to believe her theories.
Abby becomes even more obsessed about finding answers after a chance meeting with area historian and Art Bell/Coast to Coast A.M.-style podcaster Walter Bell (legendary director David Cronenberg), who also has some interest in the case. It seems the boy she saw abducted that day long ago was the son of illusionists the Magnificent Moulins (Marie-Josée Croze of Ascension and erotic horror series The Hunger and Paulino Nunes of Seven in Heaven and The Strain series), who seem to have gotten on with life rather well after his disappearance.
Shin and Schultz craft an engaging cinematic puzzle full of quirky moments and head-scratching (in the good way) likelihoods. Lynchian moments involving an old videotape about the Magnificent Moulins and slightly surreal sequences involving the kidnapping and a chase into a haunted attraction are just a couple of flourishes that help invest Disappearance at Clifton Hill with an amusing off-kilter feel. Catherine Lutes’ gorgeous cinematography captures each frame marvelously.
Abby is an unreliable protagonist, but Middleton plays the character splendidly, keeping viewers invested in Abby and rooting for her to connect all of the dots despite most characters doubting her. Cronenberg plays Bell with just a slight air of eccentricity, thankfully eschewing the histrionics that all too often accompany characters in the conspiracy theorist realm. The rest of the cast members give admirable performing, as well, with several actors not named in this review for spoiler-avoiding reasons providing eye-widening supporting roles.
Highly recommended, Disappearance at Clifton Hills is currently in theaters and available On Demand from IFC Midnight.