Producers: Fraser Ash and Kevin Krikst Director: Albert Shin Screenplay: James Schultz and Albert Shin Cast: Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, David Cronenberg, Andy McQueen, Noah Reid, Dan Lett, Aaron Poole, Eric Johnson, Marie Josée Croze, Paulino Nunes, Elizabeth Saunders, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos and Mikayla Radan Distributor: IFC Midnight Films
Clifton Hill, a major tourist district on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, is, according to Albert Shin’s intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying noirish thriller, as corrupt as the Los Angeles of “Chinatown.” That’s what Abby (Tuppence Middleton), a young woman with a dodgy past, finds when she returns to her home town after the death of her mother and is haunted by a painful memory from her youth.
That memory involves a kidnapping she witnessed back when she was seven (played in the prologue by Mikayla Radan), fishing with her parents and younger sister Laure (Addison Tymec) on the shore of the river: she saw a teen boy with an eye patch abducted by a woman, who knocked him unconscious and tossed him into the trunk of her car. Abby told no one but Laure what she had seen—and Laure has always dismissed it as one of her fantasies—but was clearly traumatized by the episode, which undoubtedly played a role in her failure to find stability in her life.
Now she and Laure (Hannah Gross) are at loggerheads over the disposition of the shuttered Rainbow motel their late mother owned. Laure wants to sell it to Charles Lake III (Eric Johnson), the smooth-talking but rather slimy casino owner who’s continuing his father’s reign of control over the area, but Abby wants to reopen it and use it as a base of operations to investigate what she saw as a child. Though Lake will go to apparently any lengths to acquire the property, Abby is able to hold onto it long enough not only to persuade Laure and her husband (Noah Reid) that there’s something to her suspicions—even if the new cop (Andy McQueen), with whom Abby had a brief fling that ended badly—but to pursue leads that will eventually help the truth to come out.
Many of them are provided by Walter Bell (director David Cronenberg, stepping in front of the camera for a change), a conspiracy buff podcaster who suggests that she look into a husband-and-wife team of magicians, The Magnificent Moulins (Marie-Josée Croze and Paulino Nunes), whose young son mysteriously disappeared around the time Abby witnessed the boy’s abduction—a presumed suicide whose body was never recovered from the river. (Among other things, she will watch hilariously hokey old videotapes made by the pair, which showcase a trick involving a caged tiger.)
Abby’s search will also implicate a strange, volatile woman named Bev Mole (Elizabeth Saunders), whom she will con into coming to her motel, bringing along her incapacitated husband (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), whom for some reason Bev is apparently holding prisoner.
Shin, along with co-writer James Schultz, has fashioned an intriguing plot, and secured good performances down the line, with Middleton anchoring the piece with a committed turn as the determined but fragile Abby. (Still, most viewers will probably be more taken by the flamboyance of Croze, Nunes and Saunders, and the amusingly deadpan work of Cronenberg.) The crafts people—in particular production designer Chris Crane and cinematographer Catherine Lutes—have fashioned a suitably seedy environment for the lurid tale to play out in (the use of actual locales, including the Flying Saucer Diner where Bell holds court, is extremely helpful in this regard), and editor Cam McLauchlin abets Shin’s propensity for deliberation, though some viewers might consider it over-deliberation.
In fact, the film does so many things right that it’s unfortunate that, in the end, it proves a disappointment. That’s because the resolution, when it comes, is not only contrived but curiously bloodless—not in a literal, but an emotional sense. Everything is spelled out as if in a pulp novel, and the result has a rote summing-up quality that closes things on a drab note.
Niagara Falls might continue to be a prime honeymoon destination, but in this case a visit to Clinton Hill is not recommended.