The 2019 film “Disappearance at Clifton Hill,” directed by Albert Shin, maybe a standard, pulp-inspired (though not entirely infused), trope-heavy twist-end mystery thriller, but it makes a bold attempt to provide a much more meaningful message than its genre generally permits.
The film’s decisions, from its trapped-in-time setting to its central protagonist’s particular psychosis to the mechanisms by which the small cast of characters move through the world and interact with one another, all serve to first reveal and then reiterate Shin’s two primary and interconnected concerns.
The first is that our internet-fueled, ever-increasing obsession with finding the capital T “Truth” behind the true-crime phenom or conspiracy du jour has made that truth even more elusive (ironically, as a result of the very technology that feeds the obsession); the second is that our hypocritical nostalgia for “simpler times” is driven around an imperfect (at best) and illusory (at worst) recollection of those times.
Shin’s (co-written with James Schultz) film’s back cover synopsis is about as clear and seemingly generic as they come, but both of these aspects turn out to be on purpose. The conclusion of “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” actually helps to explain some of the film’s more outlandish aspects, which otherwise seem to be there only to be weird.
Shin’s Movie Doesn’t Need Much to Lure Us In
Abby (Tuppence Middleton) is a Girl Who Doesn’t Have Her Life Together who, after the death of her mother, returns to the little village near Niagara Falls where she was raised and where, as a child, she witnessed a brutal kidnapping.
Sibling Having It Together (Laure, played by Hannah Gross of “Mindhunter”) has a strained connection with her sister for understandable reasons and doesn’t exactly welcome her back with open arms.
Abbey is upset that Small-Town Evil Rich Bigwig Charlie Lake (portrayed by Eric Johnson) has purchased her mother’s motel from under her, so she and Walter (portrayed by David Cronenberg), a local conspiracy theorist and historian, set out to solve a mystery in which Lake, Abbey believes, played a key role decades ago. At some point, she figures it out.
Unless, of course, she doesn’t. Literal and figurative references to myth and illusion are found throughout the film.
With the help of Walter, a local podcast host, and Falls diver, Abby discovers that the youngster abducted in front of her eyes was Alex Moulin (Colin McLeod), the son of a local magic act known as The Magnificent Moulins.
While the boy’s body has never been located, his death has been considered suicide and he is believed to have committed suicide by falling into a nearby canyon. Abby (and the reader) are thrown headfirst into the increasingly complex plot.
What Happens in The Final Moments of “disappearance at Clifton Hill”
As the investigation into Alex’s disappearance winds down, Abby starts a new job at a nearby hotel. A man with an eye patch walks in one day and asks if he may stay the night.
After some small conversation, he says this is his first time in the city in a long time and then stares at Abby, saying, “Do we know each other?” Can he tell that she is the girl who saw him being taken from the woods? It would appear so.
Abby asks, “He never touched that kid?” while the one-eyed man points to a newspaper article in which Charlie Bell III denies any participation in Alex’s murder and says, “He’s not lying.” The blind man disagrees and says, “No, he saved his life.”
After the Moles injured Alex, did Charlie Bell III send him away to ensure his survival? Though it’s not entirely obvious, it seems that not everyone engaged in Alex’s disappearance had any ill intentions.