Spending so many years of my life in Buffalo, NY, I got very familiar with both of the cities known as Niagara Falls. Especially the touristy Clifton Hill area of the Canadian one. Director Albert Shin (In Her Place) and co-writer James Schultz give us a look at a very different side of that neighbourhood in the mystery/thriller Disappearance At Clifton Hill. One that the tourist board would not approve of.

As a child, Abby (Mikayla Radan) witnessed the brutal abduction of a young, one-eyed boy while out fishing with her family. This has haunted her all her life. Now grown up Abby (Tuppence Middleton, Possessor, Downton Abbey) is returning home to Niagara Falls. Her mother has died and she and her estranged sister Laure (Hannah Gross, Joker, Mindhunter) have to settle her affairs. These include a shuttered hotel in the process of being bought by Charlie Lake (Eric Johnson, Smallville, 50 Shades Darker). He is the heir to the family that owns much of the city. Including the casino Laure and her husband work at.

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While going through her mother’s belongings, she finds a photograph from that fateful outing. She becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of who the boy was and what happened to him. That search will lead her to some very strange, and very dark places.

Shin comes at this in anything but a straightforward manner. Abby is a textbook example of an unreliable narrator. She’s a constant, probably compulsive, liar whom it’s hard to trust at the best of times. Her ally in this investigation is a former underwater daredevil, local historian and conspiracy podcaster Walter (David Cronenberg working in front of the camera for a change).

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It’s not going to be any surprise that the Lake family is connected to the kidnapping. This gives Disappearance At Clifton Hill something of a Chinatown feel. Similarly, the question of just what the photograph evokes Blow Up. However, the script isn’t quite on the level of either of those films. It sometimes loses itself among its many twists, turns and improbabilities.

However, Shin still manages to create an engrossing enough mystery that you can overlook those lapses. It doesn’t hurt that Disappearance At Clifton Hill reflects the tacky glitz of its setting, with locations such as a UFO-themed restaurant. And characters such as The Magnificent Moulins (Marie-Josée Croze and Paulino Nunes). A married team of 80s magicians with a talent for making people disappear on stage. And possibly off-stage as well.

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IFC Midnight will release Disappearance At Clifton Hill in theatres and on-demand on February 28th.

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