In Nightmare Alley, charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) endears himself to clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her has-been mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival. When he crafts a golden ticket to success, he uses this newly acquired knowledge to grift the wealthy elite of 1940s New York society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) loyally by his side, Stanton plots to con a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might be his most formidable opponent yet.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Nighmare Alley continues the director’s expertise in crafting visually striking imagery. Masterfully blending shadows and muted tones, Dan Laustsen’s marvelous cinematography mirrors the polished exterior of its characters. From its lavish production designs to its hauntingly mesmirising visuals of the circus scenes, Nightmare Alley has a visual identity that is larger than life, one that is otherworldly despite the lack of supernatural creatures that are often associated with the director’s work.
While Nightmare Alley is as grim as it gets, it has been put together with tremendous love and radiating energy that carries the audience through Gresham’s moralistic tale. Based on a 1946 novel and its first adaptation from 1947, the 2021 adaptation honours its noir roots, giving the source material a contemporary update that showcases the worst corners of human behavior. Telling a compelling tale of human barbarism, Nightmare Alley delivers an incredibly satisfying movie ending that is bound to captivate the audience.
Bringing a multitextured performance to the picture, Cooper shines as Stanton Carlisle, portraying a man that desperately wants to erase a past that holds him captive. Meeting every demand the film makes of him, Cooper delivers a disturbing portrait of an oddity masquerading as something more. Aside from Cooper’s spectacular performance, the film makes good use of its amazing cast, with Blanchett’s Lilith Ritter conjuring deeper shades of mystery from the movie’s rich tapestry of shadow and fate.
A perfect match of material and auteur, Nightmare Alley is a stunning modern noir that tells the story of a outsider who isn’t deserving of our sympathy. With show-stopping set pieces and gorgeous cinematogrpahy, the film is a visual feast that throw its characters into the grim confines of dominating interiors. Beautiful, honest, and downright gruesome, Nightmare Alley is a hypnotic neo-noir that succeeds with its increasingly tense slow-burning plot progression and alluring atmosphere.