With equally elusive characters and narrative threads, Disappearance at Clifton Hill provides a fascinating if confusing watch.
Beginning with a bang and sudden tension that stays steady throughout its 100mins runtime, Disappearance at Clifton Hill provides a creepy yet intriguing watch that delves into the concept of memory and perception. While some might be put off by its intentional wanderings into dead-ends and overlapping conspiracies, director Albert Shin has certainly created a compelling if unexpected drama.
The film begins with a young Abby (Mikayla Radan), who while out with her family witnesses a boy being kidnapped. We fast forward to a grown Abby (Tuppence Middleton), who returns to Niagara Falls where she grew up, but is now in search of the answers from her past. Amazingly, Shin’s own experience inspired the film, having also seen a potential kidnapping as a child in Niagara Falls. Beginning through in media res, that establishes the foundations of Abby’s trauma, it presents an enticing story of uncovering secrets waiting to be unfolded. However by the halfway mark, the film seems insistent on something different – rather, should we be pointing our attention towards Abby and whether we should trust her instincts, when she can’t even trust herself in what she saw. This narrative change of tack will inevitably disappoint those in search for a straight-line mystery and could also be divisive among those looking for answers, and those interested in the weaving of multiple genres to create a unique, subversive style.
The elusive soundtrack by Alex Sowinski and Leland Whitty, and the dark, lonely depiction of Niagara Falls clearly pays homage to the neo-noir subgenre, not to mention Abby’s extensive flaw as a compulsive liar. But this is not to say that the film makes itself at home here. Instead, it opts for taking thrilling and, quite frankly, bizarre turns in the plot that don’t feel like they should exist in the same space. In any other film, you could argue this is inconsistent and take it as a negative. But like many neo-noir films, the beauty of Disappearance at Clifton Hill is that it’s not aiming to be understood fully and that audiences should feel okay to leave the film with answers left inconclusive. Unfortunately, this does mean that it could potentially fall prey to accusations of self-indulgence as the snapshots of shifty characters that Abby meet along the way often feel too much like a memory themselves. While this provides an interesting and visually compelling commentary on memory and how we perceive them, it seems to favour style over substance that subsequently means, narratively speaking, it falls slightly short.
Disappearance at Clifton Hill boasts a talented cast (including a cameo from the legendary David Cronenberg) and an especially captivating performance from Tuppence Middleton, who portrays the complexities of Abby’s erratic behaviour in a believable and convincing manner. However, the film poses a difficult conundrum in that its strengths are ironically also its weaknesses – in striving for a complex soup of mysterious ideas, what’s produced is a stylish investigation into memory that sorely lacks in a plot that resembles more of a concept than a fully fleshed narrative. This film will certainly split opinion, but is also worth the watch for what will irrefutably be a unique viewing experience.
Disappearance at Clifton Hill is distributed in the UK by Lightbulb Film Distribution, certificate 15. It will be available via all major streaming and downloading platforms from July 20th, with a physical release August 3rd.