By Adam Nayman
Good thrillers live or die by their specifics, and Clifton Hill is nothing if not precise about its tourist-trap environment (the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) and its inhabitants, including trashy gambling addicts, possibly psychopathic land developers, French-Canadian husband-and-wife tiger-trainers, and—if you hadn’t already heard—David Cronenberg emerging like Ursula Andress (except fully clad in scuba gear) from a murky lake before heading to his gig operating a podcast from inside the bowels of the “only UFO in town.” Following up his palatably artful (and widely garlanded) Korean-language debut In Her Place, Albert Shin shows a willingness to plunge headlong into genre waters, an immersion that’s bracing, if not quite purifying.
In an effectively unsettling opening sequence, Shin focuses on a young girl who silently witnesses what looks like the violent kidnapping of an injured pre-teen boy; a push-in on her posing, panic-stricken, for a family photo with her oblivious parents while the perpetrators circle back for a second look is genuinely nightmarish, like a memory that won’t allow itself to be repressed. Twenty-five years later, Abby (Tuppence Middleton) remains haunted by what she saw, and possibly also deeply damaged. Descending on her hometown and older sister (Hannah Gross) with no visible means of support, she’s a chronic liar and fantasist, and thus uniquely susceptible to a set of coincidences that convinces her that some people she’s meeting in the present tense—including the handsome, monied asshole (Eric Johnson) buying her late mother’s hotel—were involved in her childhood trauma. Idleness and paranoia being great qualities for an amateur investigator, she goes full Nancy Drew while the film around her splits the difference between perversely drab Canadiana à la Egoyan and fractured-reality head games which the director handles more literal-mindedly than might have been advisable. The MVP, sweetly, is Cronenberg, whose quasi-Deep Throat role offers only so much pretense for his benedictory presence; it also suggests that if he really has had it with trying to get movies made in this country, he could always go into radio.