Disappearance at Clifton Hill, 2020.
Directed by Albert Shin
Starring Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, Marie-Josée Croze , Eric Johnson, David Cronenberg, Colin McLeod, Andy McQueen, Noah Reid, Dan Lett, and Aaron Poole
When Abby (Tuppence Middleton) returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls, echoes from her childhood trigger memories that could help solve a decades old missing-persons case.
Straight from the Twin Peaks playbook, the world of Clifton Hall could easily be a neighbouring town to the one which plays host to David Lynch’s iconic wilderness weirdness. Similarly it leaves an intriguing breadcrumb trail scattered amongst its strange breed of townsfolk, one which envelops every waking moment, and those which tiptoe towards a dreamscape, of Tuppence Middleton’s fascinating amateur detective. The big mystery we’re here to solve is whether it’s worth navigating Albert Shin’s neon-lit, rain-spotted vision of Niagara Falls with her towards a satisfying conclusion.
Straight away you’re seduced by the mood of the film. The daytime world is one of cold-concrete, abandoned shops or out-of-season businesses, before the darkness descends and the town becomes a neon-flecked noir playground. How the film constantly transitions between these two tones feels a little like the world of Spirited Away, and it only helps to accentuate the idea that Abby might not have a complete grasp on reality.
She’s a complex, often impenetrable lead presence, and it’s no surprise that that marketing and multiple shots make clever use of her reflection throughout. Will we ever really know who she is? Will she? What has driven her back home? Abby is as much the mystery here as the one she’s attempting to unravel. It’s a narrative triggered by a half-remembered memory which might not even have happened. Middleton plays her with the brittle conviction of a character wrestling with her past, an unspoken secret that is slowly peeled away as truths are revealed. The twists and turns add extra impetus to her Nancy Drew meets Girl with the Dragon Tattoo investigation, they’re not just there as Scooby Doo misdirects, because you really hope that this troubled young woman can find some form of redemption by solving the crime.
And what a strange case it is; a kid with a bloody eye patch, a big-cat animal act that would make The Tiger King raise a bleached eyebrow, and David Cronenberg emerging from a lake in full scuba diving gear. Throw in an off-kilter soundtrack that’s full of chaotic musical arrangements, and Disappearance at Clifton Hill is unsettling from the off.
Sometimes it can feel like one of those kooky episodes of The X-Files, with lines such as “whatever you think you know, trust me, you don’t know anything” thrown in as some kind of pulpy homage to the noir genre, and the Murder Mystery 101 does get a bit tedious by the time the library microfiche scrolling is rolled out, but Shin commits to this peculiar take on reality, and is supported by some good work from Tuppence Middleton and Hannah Gross, ensuring that even if the whole thing becomes too convoluted and uninvolving towards the end, at least the style will carry you right up until the wonderful final shot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt