It was the Thanksgiving weekend of 1994 when it happened, a fishing trip with her family when she left them for a moment that Abby West saw the boy with one eye being beaten and bundled into a car. She was seven years old, and tried to tell her older sister, Laure, who didn’t believe her, but Abby never forgot what she had seen – or that the driver of the car had seen her.
More than two decades have past when the death of her mother forces her home to Clifton Hill, the “tourist trap” district of Niagara Falls where the Rainbow Inn has fallen into disrepair, the land worth more than the building itself. “This place is a dump,” Laure tells her following a meeting with their lawyer to discuss an offer to buy the place. “Hookers wouldn’t even use it.”
Yet Abby feels compelled to stay, to avoid the difficult decisions of the future by looking to the past, revisiting the scene of the kidnapping she witnessed and trying to ascertain the identity of the teenage boy, a path which will lead her to soft-spoken scuba diver and conspiracy theorist who will point her towards the powerful Lake family who just made the offer on the Rainbow.
Directed by In Her Place‘s Albert Shin from a script co-written with James Schultz, Disappearance at Clifton Hill is a mystery thriller of flawed memory, of Abby’s attempt at atonement too late to make any difference, a child traumatised by an experience she had no framework to process who had no one to turn to and now copes by navigating the world through self-constructed fantasies which have corroded the patience of her family yet which allow her to walk fearlessly into unwise situations.
Jupiter Ascending‘s Tuppence Middleton complicated yet compelling as Abby, in Walter Bell she may have an ally, but even were he not played by the naturally creepy David Cronenberg he would be a character to be wary of, using her as his pawn to provide material for his Over the Falls podcast without exposing himself to risk, while Smallville’s Eric Johnson is perhaps too good to be true as handsome heir Charlie Lake.
Unable to turn to the police who are aware of her history, the trail of crumbs Abby follows are perhaps more like discarded baguettes, so conveniently they are laid out, but built around performance and a disquieting sense of place, the amusement arcades becoming sinister tunnels devoid of entertainment in out-of-season Ontario, while the slow pacing and ambiguous conclusion of Disappearance at Clifton Hill may infuriate some it is more representative of the likely outcome of any cold case reopened a quarter of a century after the event.
Disappearance at Clifton Hill will be available for digital download from 20th July and on DVD from 3rd August