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(Panic Fest) Disappearance At Clifton Hill-Review

Disappearance At Clifton Hill delivers a killer twist and a look inside childhood trauma and its lasting effects.

The thriller by Writer/Director Albert Shin and Writer James Schultz is a stylish mystery wrapped inside a character study. A young woman who returns to a small Niagra Falls town to settle her late mother’s affairs, gets ensnared in a decades-old child murder. Abby(Tuppence Middleton) witnessed something when she was just seven years old that has haunted her since. She was warped by what she saw or thought she saw. Something happened but with a witness as unreliable as Abby, it is hard to know what is truthful. Disappearance At Clifton Hill will keep you guessing until the very end.

Upon returning home to the tourist community dependent on Niagra Falls Abby falls right back into the same patterns she has her whole life. Obsession, deception, and misdirection have become a way of life for her. A snippet of an overheard conversation between strangers becomes a life truth for her hours later. An opportunist by necessity or nature, Abby is a compulsive liar. When she tried to tell people about the crime she thinks she saw she was labeled a liar as a child and as a result, the effects not just linger but translate into adulthood.

Middleton(Abby) is understated as a woman on the edge of sanity. You are never quite sure if she is completely in control of herself or maniacally controlling everything and everybody. Fans of Netflix’s beautifully bizarre Sense8 will recognize Middleton as Riley Blue in that series. She brings a fierce vulnerability that allows the more nuanced components of Abby’s personality to come through. This is a complex woman with a troubled past.

Quirky characters invade the town of Clifton. Likable brother in law Marcus, Noah Reid from Schitt’s Creek, is as sweet as he is as Patrick on the hit comedy. While beleaguered sister Laure, Hannah Gross of Shudder’s trippy DeadWax is the perfect solid foil for Abby’s outlandish lies. Odd elderly podcasters who operate out of a space-themed diner provide just enough humor to keep things from sliding into a black hole that the material easily could have warranted. Walter Bell played by a hilariously stoic David Cronenberg is a highlight.

Even casual horror fans know the legendary director from Videodrome, Deadringers, and a personal favorite eXistenZ. The King of Body Horror is in full throat as the one part stunt diver, one part diner owner, and one part small town podcaster. If that isn’t enough he sprinkles in a dash of true crime detective for good measure. To say he brought more than a few chuckles to the screening is an understatement.

Perception is important in Disappearance At Clifton Hill. How those around you perceive you, and how you perceive others. At its core, it is the story of the dangers of making assumptions. Whether those be about others or situations, those false conclusions can have disastrous effects. The viewer’s perception of Abby and the assortment of Clifton Hill residents are constantly being questioned. In most cases, the answers are as murky as the churning basin the Falls empty into.

With a nice mix of ancient technology like a microfiche and VCR tapes (the horror) Disappearance At Clifton Hill feels like an older movie. The noir aspects of the story work well in that context. Abby is a character out of place, and the story is firmly rooted in another time. Our protagonist is not so much the skeptic as the driving force for the mystery. Those around her provide all the cynicism needed to keep the noir angle entrenched.

The Disappearance At Clifton Hill is a tightly drawn story that keeps you guessing until the final act which provides one last satisfying twist. My one and only complaint is the film dragged a bit towards the middle and could have done with about ten minutes less. Aside from that minor complaint, it is well-paced, superbly acted, and nicely shot.

Catch up on all our Panic Fest coverage here.

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