Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Disappearance at Clifton Hill **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th October, 2020

Tuppence Middleton

Clifton Hill is the rather grotty entertainment district of the Canadian town of Niagara Falls. It looks pretty tacky even at the best of times, but in winter it is really sad under grey, snow-laden skies. That is the subdued environment at the heart of Albert Shin’s quirky noir Disappearance at Clifton Hill. The “disappearance” actually takes place by the side of the river below the falls. A seven-year-old girl glimpses a one-eyed boy being bundled into a car and years later the image comes back to haunt her. She has meanwhile had periods of depression and delinquent behaviour which even got her banned from the United States. So it is maybe not surprising that even her own sister, let alone the police, find her allegations of foul play far-fetched. Doggedly she presses on with her quest for the truth, for a while based in a run-down motel that used to be owned by her late mother. The mystery will even take her into Clifton Hill’s best know visitor attraction, the Haunted House (think ghost train, but without the train). This is not surprisingly spooky but as almost the whole movie is filmed in half-light, the colours drab and muted, it just blends in with the rest. There are certainly some unexpected twists in the plot but nothing especially shocking. Meanwhile the main character, Abby (Tuppence Middleton) is feeling increasingly isolated. Nonetheless, her perseverance pays off — or does it? There’s a sting in the tail of the story to sow new doubts.

David Cronenberg

Tuppence Middleton first came to my attention as the Head Girl in that blackest of black comedies, Tormented (2009), set among bullies in the secondary school from hell, though perhaps more people will have seen her in The Imitation Game (2014). She is a fine actress, but the part of Abby does not really let her shine. Some of the other characters — notably a creepy couple of magician tiger-tamers — are barely credible. Film director David Cronenberg unusually acts the part of a somewhat batty local radio presenter who gradually becomes Abby’s ally. But I think the main problem with the film is that it is not Gothic enough. There are moments when it could have been really scary, but they are played down (“tea-tabled”, as Christopher Isherwood aptly described the technique that was used effectively by E. M. Forster). It’s a pity, because far from being the memorable movie it could have been, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is a bit of a damp squib.

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