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Review: ‘Disappearance at Clifton Hill’ and Tuppence Middleton find artful mood in a mystery

Tuppence Middleton in the movie 'Disappearance at Clifton Hill'
Tuppence Middleton in the movie “Disappearance at Clifton Hill.”
(Ian Watson/IFC Films)

Like a lot of the best mysteries, the wonderfully moody neo-noir “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” is less about solving a crime than about understanding its meaning. With its eccentric amateur detective, its eye-catching Niagra Falls setting and its dissonant jazz soundtrack, this movie plays more like an arty indie drama than a thriller. It’s more David Lynch than David Fincher.

Tuppence Middleton plays Abby, an unlikely sleuth. While running from a troubled past, she returns to the decrepit Ontario tourist-trap motel that belonged to her late mother. There, she becomes obsessed with a kidnapping she witnessed when she was a little girl. Abby irritates the local law and the power elite by asking embarrassing questions about an old tragedy.

The plot of “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” is convoluted, but in a good way. It involves a conspiracy-minded podcaster (played with exaggerated gravitas by filmmaker David Cronenberg), a married pair of down-market magicians, and the various crumbling attractions of a fading vacation spot. It also involves Abby’s own sketchiness, which makes her less than trustworthy.

Ultimately, director Albert Shin (who also co-wrote the film with James Schultz) doesn’t seem overly interested in explanations as an end in themselves. As Abby gets to the bottom of her mystery, she finds every answer raises more questions.

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But that’s OK, because where “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” really excels is in exploring the visual and sonic textures of a decaying resort, and in hailing the plucky resourcefulness of a broken woman, trying to piece her memories — and maybe herself — back together.

'Disappearance at Clifton Hill'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 28 at Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood; also on VOD


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