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Review: Disappearance at Clifton Hill – “An enthralling offbeat mystery”

Available on digital download on the 20th of July and released on DVD on the 3rd of August, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is directed by Albert Shin (In Her Place), written by Shin and James Schultz (Milk and Honey) and stars Tuppence Middleton (Sense8), Hannah Gross (Mindhunter) and the legendary body-horror director David Cronenberg – who has previously appeared on-screen in Jason X, Last Night and Nightbreed.

Abby (Middleton) always thought that she witnessed a child abduction when she was a little girl. When she and her sister, Laure (Gross), return to the family motel in Niagra Falls to settle her dead mother’s estate, and the memories come flooding back, she is convinced that now as an adult she can get to the bottom of what happened.

Abby’s investigation is aided and mentored by Walter (Cronenberg), an ex-evidence recovery diver who now has a true-crime podcast, and as she delves deeper and deeper and the plot thickens even her sceptical big sister is sucked into cracking the cold case with her.

But Abby has opened a big old secret can and now there are worms everywhere. A local property magnate’s family doesn’t like her poking around and neither do a pair of shady casino magicians. Abby may have bitten off more than she can chew and may be hiding secrets of her own.

Middleton is fantastic and has to be to make Clifton Hill work. The whole film hinges on her character being likeable enough for us to be thrown when her reliability comes into question. We quickly discover that Abby is a compulsive liar — which turns out to make her a great P.I. as she can easily make up convincing stories to gain entry and trust — but also means that no one will believe her. This is a great and original central conceit and Middleton makes Abby’s investigation a thrilling one.

Cronenberg is obviously a lot of fun too. It at first seems like he is just going to have a weird one scene cameo that is just a little nod and bit of fan service to the audience, but Walter becomes a major part of the movie: taking on narrator duties and guiding Abby in the right direction – reticent to get too involved again himself after being burned when he attempted to solve the case himself years ago.

Saying a film’s location becomes a character in its own right is so eye-rollingly cliche but here it is right on the money. Shin’s smart use of off-season Niagra – haunting and misty with glimmers of casino neon burning through the chilly drizzle, giving the film a truly unique atmosphere.

With its off-kilter undercurrent, a cast of suspicious crazies, kooks and weirdos, and a twangy and discombobulating jazz score, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is an enthralling offbeat mystery with a brilliant ending, that you will be glad to have sought out. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of Tuppence Middleton’s Niagra Falls detective.

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is available on digital download on the 20th of July and released on DVD on the 3rd of August.

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