CERT: 15 | FORMAT: DVD (REVIEWED), AMAZON PRIME VIDEO | RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 3RD
Unlike schnapps, Scandi-noir is sweeping the world... of mid-size film productions. But while the inspiration source has perfected the recipe (troubled detective, grim murders, heaps of snow), the copycats have failed consistently. Two of the worst movies of the decade - The Snowman and Night Hunter - are botched attempts at replicating the formula. Disappearance at Clifton Hill is not nearly as terrible. Some character development and overall quirkiness save it from floundering, but the central mystery is far from tight and the dialogue is alternatively trite and overcooked.
The gumshoe de rigeur is Abby (Tuppence Middleton, Sense8), a directionless millennial with intimacy problems, paranoia and a compulsion for lying. Her behavioral issues may be related to a violent event she witnessed as a child, when a bloodied kid is beaten unconscious and tossed in the trunk of a car. Returning to her hometown of Niagara Falls to sell the motel she inherited from her parents, Abby decides to solve the presumed crime that traumatised her years ago. Turns out the boy was the son of a couple of magicians who were the face of a real estate empire (you know, that normal business practice). Abby’s investigation ruffles a few feathers among the rich and powerful (literally one guy), but mostly manages to annoy the whole town.
The mystery is plagued by ridiculous contrivances and strokes of luck, like Abby’s sister working in surveillance at a casino (classic lazy scriptwriting). Never mind all the quirks her character is saddled with, Tuppence Middleton fails to combine all these traits into one remotely believable character: when one attribute surfaces, the others vanish.
There are, however, a few diamonds in the mud that make Disappearance at Clifton Hill watchable. Chief among them, a rare appearance in front of the camera by David Cronenberg. The horror legend (who hasn’t directed a movie since 2014) plays a scavenger who dives to the bottom of the falls regularly looking for treasures (and body parts) to use for his podcast. A movie about this character would be worth watching.
While not as interesting, the visual component is worth watching. The tourism industry in Niagara Falls has turned the town into a kitschy smorgasbord with wax museums, haunted mansions and restaurants shaped as flying saucers peppered throughout the city. The cinematographer and production designer make good use of the delightfully tacky setup, but without a good story to accompany it, their effort goes to waste.