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Disappearance at Clifton Hill (15+, 100mins) ****
More than two years after its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, this atmospheric Canadian thriller finally has the audience it deserves.
A terrific showcase for the increasingly impressive Tuppence Middleton (Mank, The Current War, The Defeated), it makes fabulous use of its Niagara Falls backdrop and features an excellent cameo from film-maker David Cronenberg as a local historian and podcaster.
At its heart, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is the story of two sisters – Abby (Middleton) and Laure (Hannah Gross). Brought back together by the death of their mother, the estranged pair are quickly at loggerheads over what to do with the estate, particularly the now dilapidated Rainbow Motel (located in the tourist district of the “honeymoon capital of the world”).
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Laure wants to sell the prime slice of real estate to local business scion Charlie Lake (Eric Johnson), who has plans to turn it into a never-more Niagara glow-in-the-dark mini-golf facility – but Abby isn’t so sure.
Being back in her hometown after a long absence has re-awakened a traumatic childhood memory – a kidnapping of a young boy she was convinced she saw, but stayed shtum about, convinced that no adult would believe her.
Now, with time on her hands and using whatever resources she can lay her hands on, she’s determined to uncover the truth. However, Abby quickly discovers that there are those in the town who will stop at nothing to ensure she doesn’t succeed.
Director and co-writer Albert Shin’s thriller is full of twists, turns and red-herrings that will haunt you for days.
Just when you and Abby think the case has been solved, things suddenly aren’t as simple as they seem (as one character tells Abby, “whatever you think you know, you don’t know”).
There are plenty of unreliable memories and characters who circle this story and Shin (who was apparently inspired by his own upbringing and formative years) and co-writer James Schultz weave a wonderful narrative that takes in many of Niagara’s more unique, colourful and lurid elements.
A tale filled with microfiche, magicians and a magnificently flawed female protagonist, this should appeal as a small stop-gap to anyone madly missing Mare of Easttown.
Disappearance at Clifton Hill is now streaming on Netflix.