Monday, March 9, 2020

Movie Review: Disappearance at Clifton Hill

Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019) *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Albert Shin 
Written by: James Schultz and Albert Shin.
Starring: Tuppence Middleton (Abby), Hannah Gross (Laure), Marie-Josée Croze (Mrs. Moulin), Eric Johnson (Charlie Lake), David Cronenberg              (Walter), Andy McQueen (Singh), Noah Reid (Marcus), Dan Lett (Randy), Aaron Poole (Man with Eye Patch), Paulino Nunes (Mr. Moulin), Mikayla Radan (Young Abby), Elizabeth Saunders (Bev Mole), Addison Tymec (Young Laure), Clyde Whitham (Charles Lake II).
It’s nice to have a good, really weird Canadian movie again. Canadian movies have, in many ways, gotten better over the years – they’ve become more inclusive, have started to tell different kinds of stories, much of them wonderfully. But I sometimes miss the days of Canadian film that I grew up with in the 1990s – where it seemed like Canadian directors knew they’d never be able to compete with American filmmakers in terms of budget or anything that goes along with that, so they just decided to outdo them in weirdness. Albert Shin’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill would have felt at home with those strange films. By the end, you can question if the film really works or not – I’m not sure I care. It’s so pleasingly weird.
Perhaps the smartest decision the film made is its setting – Niagara Falls, which on the Canadian side of the border is this strange, low-rent tourist trap – full of cheap motels, haunted houses, a Casino, and other trappings for people to occupy themselves with once they’re done looking at the Falls themselves. I’ve been there often – and it is a strange place, it has a strange vibe to it that is impossible to describe. The area right around the falls is one thing – but venture away from the Falls, and you see something different – a depressed, and depressing community – and this comes from someone who lives in Brantford. It is a very strange place – and director Albert Shin captures that strange vibe and uses it to his advantage.
The film stars Tuppence Middleton as Abby – she grew up in Niagara Falls, but has been away for a while – only returning because her mother died, and now she and her sister Laure (Hannah Gross) have to oversee the sale of the rundown motel her mother ran. Abby is convinced that as a child she witnesses a kidnapping of another child – one who ended up committing suicide, at least according to the police, a few days later. Abby is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery – and her search brings into contact with some very strange people – the two’s richest man, who owns everything, a pair of magicians, and David Cronenberg playing a conspiracy theorist diver/podcast host who reminds Abby to rate and review, because it helps his rankings. But something is off about Abby from the start – Laure seems to be fed up with her, and the stories she tells don’t really add up.
For much of the runtime of the movie, Shin and company seem content with piling on the weirdness – yes, there is a narrative here, a mystery, and they are providing clues, and dolling out information we need, just like a detective story, yet I also wonder if they really care about that narrative. The ending of the mystery – and the film itself – seems rushed to say the least, and I’m not sure the movie ever really ties up all its loose ends – or even seem all that interested in doing so. What Shin and company want is that weird vibe, that strange atmosphere that this place has – and to place a character like Abby, played very well by Middleton, in the middle of it all, trying to piece together this puzzle that others aren’t convinced even exist – and even if it does, perhaps it’s better left unsolved. It’s a weird film – and if it never quite comes together, I had such a good time watching it, I don’t think it really matters.

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