A troubled young woman named Abby (Tuppence Middleton) returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls, where the memory of a long-ago kidnapping quickly ensnares her.
Albert Shin’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill starts off with a bang. A creepy opening draws us in on an unnerving scene. A young child is with her family in the Niagara Falls area taking pictures with one another. So far, so normal, right? However, right out of the corner of her eye, she sees what she suspects is a kidnapping. During her adult life, she hasn’t really been able to shake this incident from her memory. She feels almost as if it is her responsibility to uncover this mystery that may or may not have happened all these years ago.
The way the opening of the film sets up the rest of the story along the way is executed in a great and brilliant way. Unfortunately, as impressively crafted and acted as Disappearance at Clifton Hill is, it ultimately fizzles out as a disappointingly bland and generic mystery thriller that suffers from its incoherent screenplay and uninspired storytelling.
Shin co-wrote the script for the film with James Schultz, and while they do set up some genuinely creepy and disturbing scenes, the vast majority of these plotlines don’t go anywhere all that exciting or intriguing. Furthermore, it takes an incredibly long time for them to get going, too. The first thirty minutes of this movie are there to set things up and get viewers interested. The problem is that it not only makes it hard to revisit the film a second time, but it gets a bit frustrating on the initial viewing. A large portion of the first thirty minutes is expository dialogue being spoken by a few characters and pointless sequences that could have either been significantly trimmed down or removed from the film.
However, as the second act draws to a close and the third act starts up, Disappearance at Clifton Hill‘s entertainment value picks up tremendously. From there, we actually get to learn a lot about the aforementioned kidnapping, and it is by far the most enjoyable part of this picture. As entertaining and often satisfying as it is, it doesn’t really have that much of an emotional impact or shock value due to the rest of the movie beforehand being relatively dull and uninspired. A lot of the story feels similar to mystery shows like Twin Peaks and The X-Files.
If there is one thing to praise here, it is absolutely the acting on display from the cast. They all bring their A-game and there truly isn’t a weak link among the entire ensemble. While some of them don’t really get a lot to do, seeing their great performances on display was a treat. Out of them all, the standout is easily Middleton as lead protagonist Abby. She portrays her with a great sense of vitality and feels remarkably raw throughout.
In addition, the film contains a delightfully creepy score from Alex Sowinsky and Leland Whitty. It is their music that kicks off the entire thing and they carry greatly unnerving tunes throughout the entire running time. Their musical score is accompanied with some stellar cinematography by Catherine Lutes as well, elevating the rest of the film and giving it a more grandiose feeling, even if the film in the grander scale of things is lacking in many departments.
As a whole though, this was an underwhelming movie that felt like a missed opportunity in a ton of areas. With a better screenplay, this could have been one of the first great movies of the year, but sadly, Disappearance at Clifton Hill suffers from an incoherent and uninspired script even if it boasts great performances and stellar technical achievements.
Overall Grade: C
MPAA Rating: N/A
Directed by: Albert Shin
Distributed by: Elevation Pictures
Release Date: February 28, 2020 (United States)
Running Time: 100 minutes