Is Netflix's 'Disappearance at Clifton Hill' Based on a True Story?

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is the latest thriller to land on Netflix and movie fans won't want to miss it.

Directed by Albert Shin (In Her Place), the gripping thriller follows the story of Abby (played by Tuppence Middleton), who after inheriting a family owned motel in the Clifton Hill tourist area of Niagara Falls, Ontario, becomes obsessed with vague childhood memories she has of witnessing a potential kidnapping.

Disappearance at Clifton Hill first premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and went on to receive four Canadian Screen Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Andy McQueen.

Now, the film has landed on Netflix and audiences are intrigued to more about the true story that inspired the film. Newsweek has everything you need to know.

Warning: This article contains spoilers about Disappearance at Clifton Hill

Is Disappearance at Clifton Hill Based on a True Story?

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is loosely based on a true story.

The movie's plot is partly based on director Albert Shin's real life.

Like Abby in Disappearance at Clifton Hill, his parents owned a motel in Niagara Falls and he too has childhood memories of witnessing what he believed to be a kidnapping,

Shin's parents owned the Niagara Gateway Motel near Clifton Hill when they first moved to Canada from South Korea. When Shin was born, the family was mainly based in Toronto, but returned to Clifton Hill regularly.

In Disappearance at Clifton Hill, Shin has taken his own experience and created a dramatic thriller with elements of fact and fiction.

Like Abby, when Shin was around five or six years old, he is certain he witnessed a young boy being kidnapped as his family fished along the Niagara River.

The movie follows the story of Abby, a known pathological liar who at seven years old believes she saw a young boy with one eye, hiding in the woods being kidnapped by a couple. Abby told her family what she saw, but it fell on deaf ears.

Speaking to Now Toronto, Shin discussed how the memory is repressed but resurfaces now and then.

He explained; "What I did see for sure was a guy take a boy, throw him in the trunk, and beat him with a tire iron.

"To this day it's seared in my head. He was saying something like, 'Shut the f*** up or I'll beat you again.' He slammed the trunk and then drove off."

Shin added: "So much time has passed, I don't even know if I just made that story up. I have all these vivid memories of this thing. I could trace it back to a place. But I don't know if I actually saw anything, which made it more interesting for me to write about it and craft a whole story about a pathological liar."

As an adult, Abby returned to Niagara Falls following the death of her mother and alongside her sister is tasked with figuring out what to do with their mother's motel.

Solving the Mystery

Her sister wants to sell the motel to a local businessman Charlie Lake (Eric Johnson), but Abby is insistent they hold onto the motel for a while longer, hoping she will uncover what happened to the young boy she saw all those years ago.

She learns his name is Alex after teaming up with conspiracy theorist podcaster Walter Bell (David Cronenberg). At the time of Alex's disappearance, it was widely reported that he had taken his own life, but Abby is convinced it is a cover-up.

Abby's unofficial investigation leads her down a dark path, including meeting Alex's parents and his suspected captors, who both insist they are innocent.

After years of being ignored, owing to her history of lying (she once faked having retrograde amnesia while living in Arizona in the U.S.), Abby's case is finally investigated by police who arrest Alex's suspected kidnappers, as well as his parents and local businessman, Charlie Lake.

Despite the media coverage, Abby has tried to move on from the case but is sucked back in when a man, wearing an eye patch and who would be the same age as Alex enters her motel reception.

Noticing a newspaper with the news story of Alex's disappearance on the counter, the man tells Abby that Charlie Lake is innocent and actually saved his life, leaving Abby with the answers she sought all along.

During the making of Disappearance at Clifton Hill, Shin faced resistance from the Clifton Hill business improvement association and locals, who feared the movie would paint the city and people in a negative light.

Speaking to Now Toronto, Shin shared: "There were certain people in the city that would rather us not have been there. We tried to be as low-key as possible."

Disappearance at Clifton Hill is streaming on Netflix now.

disappearance at clifton hill tuppence middleton
Tuppence Middleton attends the World Premiere of "Downton Abbey: A New Era" at Cineworld Leicester Square on April 25, 2022 in London, England. Middleton plays Abby in Disappearance at Clifton Hill. Lia Toby/Getty Images