Review: ‘Disappearance At Clifton Hill’, Kidnapping Mystery Fizzles Out Despite Strong Performances

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 latest feature film Disappearance at Clifton Hill starts off with a bang. A creepy opening lets 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 has not 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 was done 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 as a whole.

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 other, better 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 whole cast. They all bring their A-game to the movie and there truly is not a weak link among the entire ensemble. While some of them don’t really get a lot to do sadly, 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 she 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 was accompanied with some stellar cinematography by Catherine Lutes as well.

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.

 2 out of 5
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.


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