Clifton Hill is a tourist promenade on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, and the border town – at once a significant place, and something of a dead end destination – makes for a vaguely unsettling mystery backdrop.
Abby (Tuppence Middleton), a local woman, returns to the just-in-the-process-of-being-sold motel her late mother owned and a reunion with her wary, sceptical sister Laure (Hannah Gross). It slowly becomes apparent that Laure has very good reason to be wary and sceptical, and that Abby has lived through many cycles of ‘girl who cried wolf’ misadventures … but now Abby focuses on a childhood memory from the 1990s, glimpsing a boy with a bloody bandage over one eye hiding in the woods near the Falls and then snatched by a sinister couple of grown-ups. Abby makes connections with a set of interlocking local mysteries involving a town-owning big-shot family which might harbour several generations of degenerate abusers, a pair of lounge magicians who might have fed their weakling son to a pet tiger, a female thug who is barred from the local casino, and a raft of airy allegations kept alive by a deep-diving local podcaster played by David Cronenberg (who certainly has the voice for it).
Middleton is one of a generation of British actresses (Ophelia Lovibond, Imogen Poots) whose posh names made them hard to take seriously when they started getting work but who have consistently delivered interesting performances in unusual films. Here, she underplays the obsessiveness and the eccentricity but makes for a fascinating noir fall girl in a plot trap that evokes conspiracy noirs like Cutter’s Way, though director Albert Shin (who co-wrote with James Schultz) has some unusual twists in store that render this slightly less predictable than the usual it’s-all-a-plot business. In a terrific scene, Abby draws the stage magicians (Marie-Josee Croze, Paulino Nunes) into a confrontation in a diner, only for the evidence she presents to be whisked away in sleight of hand and the couple to put on an intimidating show that leaves her (and, frankly, us) more confused than we were going in.
It may be a little too elliptical to grip, and the building suspense is undermined by the realisation that the heroine is more of a danger to herself than any dark forces might be, but it has an understated, melancholy, biting Canadian feel that’s quite distinctive. Formerly known as Clifton Hill.