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Disappearance at Clifton Hill

At the same time John Turturro’s Big Lewbowski spin-off The Jesus Rolls bowls into theatres, a more faithful adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ style and wit is released – Albert Shin’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill.

Shin solidified his strength as a storyteller with his breakout indie In Her Place, a meticulously structured and self-contained character study.  I was anticipating what Shin would do next, but I would’ve never guessed that his next movie would be a murder mystery that rides a line between creepy and camp.  The filmmaker is still working within a self-contained narrative (sharing writing duties this time with screenwriter James Schultz), but now he’s spinning an ominous tale behind a fancy-free façade and teasing his audience to take a peek.

Intrepid albeit unconventional sleuth Abby (a great performance by Tuppence Middleton) digs deeper into a disturbing memory from her childhood.  A trail of clues provided by the past and hints given by eccentric locals (including Walter, a podcasting conspiracy theorist played by horror director David Cronenberg) help Abby build a case around the disappearance of a teenage boy, allowing her to dive further into a twisted rabbit hole.

Actually sharing more in common with David Lynch’s unforgettable Blue Velvet or David Robert Mitchell’s recent neo-noir Under the Silver Lake, Disappearance at Clifton Hill makes us wonder about what exists beyond a marvellous masquerade.  In this case, a potential crime being obscured by the tourism industry of Niagara Falls, Ontario.  It’s all fiction, of course, but it’s hard not to become swept up in the mind-bending trip being obscured by cornball entertainment acts.  Fitting spurts of comedic dialogue also help cut the tension fuelling this whodunit.  Cronenberg, of all people, receives the funniest bits.  My favourite exchange happens after Abby meets Walter at his recording studio (located in the basement of a tacky interstellar restaurant), and he becomes offended to discover that Abby didn’t listen to his podcast before pursuing this mystery.

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is an accomplished movie, but it’s also a perfect example of why it’s so refreshing to see artists step out of their comfort zones;  just as Cronenberg proves with his oddball role and Shin proves with this terrifically offbeat flick.

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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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