Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by Albert Shin (In Her Place), Disappearance at Clifton Hill is a stylish new neo-noir mystery. However, despite some interesting ideas found at the story’s core, the film too often plays out like a wannabe David Lynch picture, and this lack of originality often drags it down.
The movie follows a young woman as she returns to her hometown, becoming obsessed with a cold case — a disappearance she witnessed when she was a child. For the most part, the film follows a very conventional path and this is what makes it so disappointing. There are so many points in which the plot seems to be pointing in a unique direction only to redirect in a more obvious way.
Part of the movie’s problem is that Shin and co-writer James Schultz don’t seem to have mastered the pace for which they are so obviously aiming. Lynch is a filmmaker known for telling stories that are meandering and contemplative, and often weird and random. Although their attempts are obvious, Shin and Schultz never strike that balance in telling a cinematic story and crafting the wandering mystery.
Additionally, the character development in the movie is somewhat lackluster. The film depends on the very common trope of the protagonist questioning herself, and while this can create a sense of paranoia if done correctly, it instead forms a distance between the viewer and the character. Shin and Schultz simply don’t make the character approachable enough for the movie to be effective.
That said, Tuppence Middleton is absolutely wonderful in her leading role. She takes a lackluster script and breathes some noticeable life into it, giving the film a much-needed momentum. Many of the movie’s best moments cash in on Middleton’s talents, allowing her to flex her full emotional range and command the screen.
Shin also owes a lot to Lynch in a visual sense here too. The imagery, often drenched in muted colors, is frequently hypnotic and sometimes disturbing. The result is an overall feeling of dreaminess that is often disorienting (in a good way). While it would have been nice to see Shin do something unique to make the film more his own, mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery.
The movie’s soundtrack is also very unique. There are some interesting choices in music throughout that run counter to the narrative being shown on screen. This helps artificially create the suspense that the narrative is so desperately lacking, satisfying the bare minimum needed for the audience to not check out of the film.
Although there are a lot of good things happening in the movie, Disappearance at Clifton Hill simply feels too unoriginal to be particularly memorable. Still, this feels like more of a misstep than a total failure for Shin.
Disappearance at Clifton Hill hits theaters and VOD on February 28.