Film Review: Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2020)

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

A young woman tries to solve a mystery from her past when she returns to her family-owned dilapidated motel in Niagara Falls. But given her background, how much truth is there in her story?

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is a bit like what would happen if Nancy Drew turned Twin Peaks into a true crime podcast. 

Set in an off-season Niagara Falls (if such a thing exists), a young woman takes it upon herself to investigate an incident from her past after the local police refuse to take her report of a crime seriously.

The opening, in the past, sets the scene. A young girl sees an injured boy being bundled into a car by a strange couple as she poses for a photograph with her family. Following the death of her mother some years later, the girl Abby (played as an adult by Tuppence Middleton), returns to her home town of Niagara Falls to the dilapidated hotel which her family once owned. Haunted by what she saw as a child, and unwilling to sell the motel, she decides to try to find out the truth behind the boy’s disappearance.

In a city such as Niagara Falls, motels, casinos and variety shows are a large part of the economy, and it’s no surprise that Abby finds herself in UFO-themed diners or having coffee with magicians as she revisits her past. She also spends an inordinate amount of time in the library looking at micro-fiche, or in her room viewing VHS videos, which all goes to give a strange 1980s vibe to proceedings. 

And then, out of nowhere (well, out of the water, to be precise), David Cronenberg appears in a wetsuit being very enigmatic. “I also have a podcast”, he announces; “please don’t forget to rate and review”. Sometimes he seems to be narrating the film, other times we’re with Abby – but as we learn more about her backstory, it’s not clear how much of her viewpoint we can actually believe. 

There are so many non-sequiturs, lies, and truth games going on, alongside an unreliable narrator, that it’s difficult to keep a handle on what’s a real clue and what’s just smoke and mirrors. Literally, in one case.

With a rather exasperating conclusion, Disappearance at Clifton Hill offers hints at something really gripping, but the sleight-of-hand it employs unfortunately does it a disservice.

It really would have been better as a podcast.

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is available for digital download from 20th July, and on DVD from 3rd August.

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